New online tool in Nova Scotia will revolutionize health care, proponents say

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Dr. Stewart Cameron doesn’t have a problem admitting when he’s impressed.

And Cameron is very impressed with MyHealthNS, a fully integrated online tool that connects patients with their doctors and other health-care providers and allows them to access routine test results, medical histories, ask their family doctor questions and book appointments through a secure portal.

It’s the first of its kind in Canada.

“I practised in Nova Scotia for approximately 27 years, and it’s not very often you get the chance to say ‘leading health-care innovator’ and ‘Nova Scotia’ together in the same sentence,” he said at a government announcement on Thursday.

“This is a very big deal, and I’m hopeful that it’s the beginning of other big things in the next couple of years.”

Province-wide by 2017

After a three-year pilot project involving 35 family doctors including Stewart — and more than 6,000 patients — the program is now being rolled out across the province.

Patients at the IWK Health Centre, Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, and other health-care sites in the Halifax, Eastern Shore and West Hants areas will be able to access the service now, with the rest of the province getting access by early 2017.

During the pilot years, doctors saw a 22 per cent decrease in the type of visits to their offices that can be handled instead by using MyHealthNS. Cameron said that means patients who really need face-to-face access will have shorter waits.

Meanwhile, doctors’ time will be used more efficiently. It should also help with recruitment.

The program is the result of a $13.3-million investment over three years, with $10 million coming from Ottawa and the rest coming from the province.

Giving patients more access

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, a family doctor, said the program is a major advancement in medical technology.

The health-care system is woefully behind the times when it comes to technology, said Philpott, and the hope is doctors will trade paper and fax machines to transition to MyHealthNS. It’s the first step in giving patients more access and control over their health care as well as modernizing and connecting all aspects of the system to make it a more streamlined and efficient operation.

“This is exactly the kind of innovation that we need to see more of,” said Philpott.

“[It will address] the frustration of patients who think, ‘This is completely ridiculous; when I can go online and book an appointment to get my nails done, how come I can’t go online and book an appointment to see my health-care provider.'”

‘It’s going to change people’s practices’

The new master agreement recently signed between the province and Doctors Nova Scotia includes a two-year pilot project that allows doctors to be paid for some non-face-to-face services. It will include phone calls and using MyHealthNS.

“It’s going to change people’s practices,” said Dr. Michelle Dow, president of Doctors Nova Scotia.

While some people might be uneasy about the security of using such a service, the people who put it together say it is as secure as, and must meet the same rigorous tests required for, the banking industry and its online tools.

“Part of developing a solution like this is making sure we have the best practices implemented to protect the security and privacy,” said George Attar of McKesson Canada, the company implementing MyHealthNS using a system called RelayHealth.

“I think one of the good things about RelayHealth is that the patient controls who they give access to.”

‘It just simplifies everything greatly’

Richmond Campbell, a citizen rep on the pilot program’s steering committee and one of the test patients, routinely has blood tests and other health procedures.

He said the ability to get all of that information delivered electronically and be able to make appointments or ask minor questions the same way was extremely valuable.

“It just simplifies everything greatly and, of course, it gets me really involved in managing my health,” he said.

“I think that this is really critical for a healthy, aging population.”

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New online tool in Nova Scotia will revolutionize health care, proponents say

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