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A clinical interoperability action plan for Canada

As published in Technology for Doctors Online, Posted August 27, 2015

Information. There is widespread agreement among physicians that the single most important determinant of their ability to deliver the best possible patient care is patient information, available to them when and where they need it. For that to happen, Canada's healthcare system must embrace clinical interoperability – the complete and immediate sharing of electronic information between providers and among organizations. "Clinical interoperability is, without question, the next priority in healthcare," says Michael Green, President and CEO, Canada Health Infoway.

"And it's important to understand that we're not talking about technology for the sake of technology. We're talking about technology that will enable advanced clinical use of information and better, safer, patient care."

That view is echoed across the Canadian healthcare sector. Dr. Glen Geiger, Chief Medical Information Officer at The Ottawa Hospital, says that in his view what is central to any discussion of clinical interoperability is patient safety.

"I believe the pervasive sharing of medication information among clinicians and healthcare organizations will lead to better prescribing and will allow us to prevent potential medication errors and avoid harm to patients."

The journey towards interoperability took a significant step forward when the Clinical Interoperability Steering Committee released its Action Plan Co-chaired by Dr. Peter Rossos, CMIO and staff gastroenterologist at UHN and Canada Health Infoway President and CEO Michael Green, the committee is composed of clinicians, health leaders, vendors and other stakeholders.

"Working together, our committee has developed a comprehensive strategy to accelerate clinical interoperability in Canada," says Dr. Rossos. "The Action Plan is the roadmap to implementing that strategy."

The Action Plan establishes three initial priorities: Medication Management, Communicable Disease Management, and Coordination of Care.

Since being made public, it has garnered a great deal of positive feedback, and stakeholders across the country are expressing support.

While the plan will be updated in response to changing circumstances and increased understanding, the overarching goal will remain constant: to improve the quality of patient care through the effective sharing of clinical information among healthcare organizations, clinicians and their patients.

"My continued involvement in progressing clinical interoperability stems from an ongoing commitment to achieve excellent patient care delivery supported by timely electronic access to important clinical information," says Susan Antosh, Chief Executive Officer of eHealth Saskatchewan.

Prior to the release of the Action Plan, Canada Health Infoway established InfoCentral, an online collaboration platform designed to engage the entire industry around clinical interoperability priorities and standards.

The focus now, says Mr. Green, has shifted from learning about the plan to beginning the work needed to carry it out.

"The InfoCentral site is designed to encourage and enable healthcare leaders to engage, share different viewpoints and work together to make clinical interoperability a reality. The site features communities where people can go to exchange information and points of view, and we have working groups being formed to start tackling problems, one at a time."

Dr. Rossos agrees with Green on the importance of health stakeholders helping to pave the road to interoperability. And he wants to see doctors leading the way.

"Doctors are healthcare leaders, pure and simple. People look to us. I hope my colleagues across the country will take part, join working groups, figure out the problems that need to be solved and help do the work needed to solve them."

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Michael Green

About Michael Green

As President and Chief Executive Officer of Canada Health Infoway, Michael works with Infoway's jurisdictional partners and other key stakeholders to accelerate the development and adoption of digital health in Canada, which will provide clinicians and patients with information they need to support safer care decisions and a more modern and sustainable health care system for all Canadians. Michael is co-chair of the pan-Canadian clinical interoperability steering committee.

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