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Use of EMR escalating significantly in Canada

Use of electronic medical record systems (EMRs) for keeping patient records has become the norm rather than the exception in Canada, and doctors are getting more value from them.

These conclusions can be drawn from recently released data from the 2014 National Physician Survey (NPS) showing 75% of physicians report using electronic records to enter or retrieve clinical patient notes on a laptop or desktop. This level of usage is up from 26% in 2007.

This most recent version of Canada’s largest census survey on the opinions of physicians, medical residents and students focused on use of information technology. More than 10,000 licensed physicians from across the country completed this year’s online poll.

Since 2004, the survey has been implemented collaboratively by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Medical Association and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

“These findings should provide the final keystroke to lay to rest the myth that physicians are opposed to adopting new technology,” said CMA President-elect Cindy Forbes

“The survey shows clearly that EMR use has reached the tipping point for Canadian doctors rather than just being the domain of early adopters.”

“A huge growth in the use of information technology is taking place across Canada,” Dr. Cecil Rorabeck, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, agreed.

According to NPS findings, physicians in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario were most likely to report using electronic records, at just over 80% in each province.

However, many physicians continue to use both electronic and paper records, with just 29% reporting using electronic records exclusively. Family physicians were most likely to have made the switch to electronic records exclusively, with 42% of FPs reporting this.

“It’s great to see more family physicians moving to electronic record systems and electronic tools,” said Dr. Garey Mazowita, College of Family Physicians of Canada president, in a release. “The benefits include faster access to test results and reviews of medication lists and interactions, and that means more timely health care for our patients.”

Sixty-five percent of physicians reported seeing better or much better quality of care since the implementation of EMRs, an increase of nine percentage points over last year.

Physicians also report more frequent use of electronic tools in other aspects of health care:

  • 80% access lab/diagnostic tests electronically, compared with 38% in 2010
  • 58% use electronic tools to review medication records
  • 45% electronically check drug interactions or make referrals to other physicians

The survey also showed encouraging uptake in the use of telemedicine, compared with earlier NPS surveys.

Among challenges that physicians identified with electronic medical tools were technical glitches (52%), compatibility issues (46%) and firewall or security issues (26%) as the most common barriers.

Forbes said physicians still have some frustrations with EMR systems that are currently available, and are keen to have systems that provide interoperability so there can be a seamless electronic flow of information between the community and the hospital — as well as between jurisdictions.

“Governments still need to keep their ‘pedal to the metal’ and continue to financially support physician efforts to implement EMRs so that we may fully unlock the promise of digital health systemwide,” Forbes said in a release.

The 2014 NPS website includes results by province, specialty and certain demographic characteristics of the responders. A full discussion of the findings (as they relate to EMRs and digital health) will be featured in the next edition of Future Practice, the CMA’s member magazine on health information technology.

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