E-health program saves millions

Canada is chalking up some e-health gains in the area of medication, with an estimated $436 million in cost savings and efficiencies this year, says a report released last week.

Canada is chalking up some e-health gains in the area of medication, with an estimated $436 million in cost savings and efficiencies this year, says a report released last week.

The systems, hooked up now mainly in the western provinces and Prince Edward Island and to a lesser extent elsewhere, allow pharmacists and health care providers to electronically access records of a patient’s prescription medications.

And they provide a full and accurate medication history so that potential drug interactions or allergies can be caught before they happen.

The $436 million tally and report was compiled by Deloitte for Canada Health Infoway, a federally funded organization that was founded in 2001 and charged with helping provinces and territories to adopt electronic health record projects.

“We expect that number to increase over time as drug information systems are more widely used in the country, and we get more experienced with their use,” said Jennifer Zelmer, senior vice-president of clinical adoption and innovation at Infoway.

It’s the first such report to assess the estimated gains for this level — Generation 2 — of drug information systems.

The report projects that once Generation 2 systems are more widely implemented across the country, they will generate about $1 billion a year in benefits.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are at 100 per cent in terms of implementing Generation 2 drug information systems, while British Columbia and Alberta are about 90 per cent operational, she said.

In Ontario, hospital emergency programs have access to medication profiles for seniors and others who have drugs provided through government programs.

About half the hospital emergency rooms in Canada are currently linked to these drug information systems, Zelmer noted.

“If you come in and you’re unconscious, or for whatever other reason can’t provide information about the medications you’re on, authorized health care providers can still understand your medication profile, and know whether it’s safe to prescribe any medication for you or not,” she said.

The report attributes 21 per cent of total benefits to better compliance, because the computerized records helped pharmacists work with patients so that medications were more likely to be taken as prescribed.

Another 32 per cent of benefits were related to increased pharmacist and prescriber productivity, because fewer phone calls were needed to check prescriptions.

Reduced adverse drug reactions accounted for 20 per cent of the financial benefit, and reduced medication abuse for 16 per cent. Another 10 per cent was in the area of improved drug cost management.

As well, the study involved looking at international literature on the topic, and there were key interviews with those who introduced and use the systems.

Myrella Roy, executive director of the Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said it would be “quite impressive” if $436 million in savings and efficiencies were achieved.

“Knowing that … there’s very narrow implementation of the health records right now, it’s a start,” she said from Ottawa.

Any means that exist to reduce the number of adverse events and improve the safety of patients are worthwhile, she said.