Health data sharing between Canadian providers behind the curve

Canada has made considerable progress in adopting electronic health records, and now must focus its attention on sharing the data within, according to a new commentary from the C.D. Howe Institute.

The commentary, written by Denis Protti, a health information science professor at the University of Victoria, reports that data sharing is among the lowest compared to other countries. In primary care, only 12 percent of physicians are notified electronically of patient interactions with hospitals or send and receive electronic referrals for specialist appointments. Fewer than three in 10 primary care physicians have electronic access to clinical data about a patient seen by a different healthcare organization.

Protti suggests that the fragmentation of care in Canada and the current payment structures are largely to blame for the lack of data sharing; he recommends that more attention should be paid to interoperability, noting that "[s]hared electronic records should be regarded as essential to care as the stethoscope and the thermometer." 

He also recommends, among other things, that more leadership and incentives be provided; that clinicians be held accountable for meeting data sharing goals; and that vendor decisions not be allowed to render data "inaccessible, expensive to access or at risk of loss."

"Canadian governments have invested significant resources and effort to date in digitizing health data for a number of organizations and users, including hospitals, diagnostic imaging and labs, etc.," he says. "The next key phase is ensuring the exchange of such information among users."

Data exchange has been harder to accomplish than originally envisioned. Both the U.S. and Canada have been focusing more on improving interoperability in order to maximize the potential of EHRs and boost patient care.  

To learn more:
- read the commentary (.pdf)