Angie Hamson’s seven-year-old son, Charlie, has had 14 surgeries in his young life to address medical problems with his heart, brain and palate.
For most of those seven years, Hamson has carried around a binder to keep track of her son’s medical files: his test results, medical images, medication lists, discharge notes and appointment reviews. That binder is more than six-centimetres thick.
“It becomes very difficult to co-ordinate the care of a child with such complex needs,” Hamson told a news conference Monday where CHEO unveiled an electronic patient records system that has rendered her binder obsolete.
The CHEO MyChart system gives patients and their parents secure, online access to health records. Using it, parents can check appointments, review test results, read summaries of medical visits, and interact with members of their CHEO health care team. The chart includes a summary of a patient’s active medical issues, along with their allergies and medications.
“I don’t need this binder anymore. I can check it on my phone,” Hamson said. “I was in the emergency room with my son yesterday (Charlie has the flu), checking MyChart on my phone, and I had access to his information right away.”
Hamson said the electronic chart is more than just a “cool new program” since it gives parents the information they need to actively manage their child’s health care. She was part of a year-long pilot project that preceded the system’s rollout.
“It’s not simply about being kept in the loop,” said Hamson, a Russell resident whose son was born with a series of anomalies. “It’s about understanding my place on the team. I’m not just a parent fighting to get access to information. It’s being given freely to me. And I can make my decisions for my child’s health care effectively.”
In the past, individual health records could only be accessed by filling out a form in person at the hospital.
The new electronic records system offers 24-hour, online access to any CHEO patient who has been treated as an outpatient at the hospital since October 2013. More than 53,000 children visited outpatient clinics last year.
Already, more than 900 patients have registered to use the online health records system. Each user costs the hospital $2.45 – a licensing fee paid to Epic Systems Corporation, the company that developed CHEO’s health information system.
The health records are secured much like banking information: Parents gain access to them through an encrypted connection with a username and password.
Dr. Ellen Goldbloom, a pediatric endocrinologist, said the system makes for better-informed, more involved parents. “I think it’s improving transparency and trust,” she said.
Traditionally, Goldbloom noted, patients awaiting test results were told that “no news is good news” since CHEO did not have the resources to inform every patient of a normal outcome. With the electronic records system, however, parents are notified by email when the results are ready and can check them online in an instant.
“That can really lessen anxiety,” Goldbloom said.
Half of the users surveyed during the CHEO MyChart pilot project said the system – and the information it afforded them – improved the quality of clinical visits.
The new records system eliminates the need to maintain paper charts, which once had to follow CHEO patients moving from clinic to clinic. It also means that a patient who has to visit an emergency department in another city can access medical information online and share it with doctors.
Tammy DeGiovanni, director of ambulatory care at CHEO, said patients cannot book appointments with the system yet, but that feature is expected to be added soon. “The possibilities are endless,” she said.