OTTAWA, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- Canada says it wants every citizen to have a single electronic health record that stays with them for life and is accessible to all health professionals.
Physicians at one pioneering regional health center say they've used electronic medical records since 1997 and urge a national effort to do the same, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported Friday.
"When we started out we had paper charts and we longed for something more legible, more complete and more accessible, so computerization seemed like the way to go," said Dr. Lewis O'Brien, a family physician with the Group Health Center in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Having immediate computer access to medical charts, test results, diagnostic images and prescription drug information saves time, reduces waste and duplication, and improves safety, he says.
"It allows you to deliver patient-centered care," O'Brien said.
Unlike patients of the GHC clinic, most Canadians still do not have electronic medical records, and many health professionals are asking "why not?"
"That's a good question," Richard Alvarez, president and CEO of Canada Health Infoway says. "I would say it's not technology or money that's lacking but a culture of collaboration. Once you have that -- like they do in Sault Ste. Marie -- anything is possible."
One-half of Canadian citizens have an electronic medical record -- meaning information stored in electronic form in one place -- but only 17 percent have an electronic health record -- one that contains all their essential health information accessible from anywhere.
Canada Infoway says there are electronic medical records in about 37 percent of physician's offices, 65 percent of hospitals and nearly 100 percent of pharmacies.
Expanding those numbers is relatively easy but not cheap, authorities say.
Over the past seven years, the country has spent more than $3 billion on electronic health records and estimates twice as much again will be needed to complete the task, the Globe and Mail reported.