Dr. Brenda Caloyannis examines Melissa Biedermann at Mnaamodzawin Health Services in Aundeck Omni Kaning. The First Nations health centre is participating in a pilot project aimed at bringing electronic medical records to Aboriginal health centres in the North.
A partnership between Aboriginal health-care agencies across Manitoulin Island and the North Shore aims to modernize the way First Nation health care is delivered by introducing electronic medical record (EMRs) technology.
The Giiwednong Health Link pilot project (giiwednong means north in Ojibwe) brings together 14 First Nations across the region, the Aboriginal health access centres on Manitoulin and the North Shore, and the Sault Ste. Marie Indian Friendship Centre to deploy a standardized EMR customized to meet their needs.
Initiated three years ago by a group of First Nation health centres on Manitoulin, the project is a result of fragmentation between the health-care services provided to the communities, explains Giiwednong secretariat Pam Williamson.
Access to information
“One of the things that has been hard is that the community staff don’t have access to anything. The physicians would come in, they would use their electronic medical record, and they would take their data away, except for in Wikwemikong where they would leave printed copies of their charts,” said Williamson, executive director of Noojmowin Teg Health Centre in Aundeck Omni Kaning. “There was no link between what the communities did, what we did, and what the physicians did.”
If a patient living in M’Chigeeng chooses to move to Wikwemikong, for example, his chart won’t be transferred with him because of the different EMRs being used by the Island’s physician groups.
While Noojmowin Teg has used its own EMR for the last few years, only some staff members have access to the information. The gap in coverage meant that staff had difficulty preparing reports for funders or updating patient charts. The health centre was determined to standardize the EMR system across Manitoulin’s health centres.
The plan was quickly extended to include the 14 First Nations, the Aboriginal health access centres, and the Indian Friendship Centre, the idea being that a collective proposal would gain the attention of provincial and federal funders.
“The EMR is not only for medical purposes, but also for community health staff reporting for prevention and promotion programming, which is what they primarily do,” Williamson said. “It means that we need to take a standardized EMR that is recognized by the province and we also need to customize it to put this other information in.”
This project is unique in Ontario. Giiwednong is the only initiative directly addressing the EMR needs of First Nation populations, although there have been similar projects across Canada.
Along with the EMR system, Giiwednong is seeking to set up a centre of excellence, which would incorporate support staff for health-care providers linking into the new system.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be a physical building in one place. We’re looking for parts of it to be housed anywhere,” Williamson said. “But we know that we need technical support for those staff as they’re learning to use the EMR. We need somebody to install the EMR, we need to make sure that they have the right bandwidth in order for them to be able to use the EMR, and we need somebody for privacy and security.”
The result will be a hub that links the participating communities, providing various levels of access to the different health-care providers.
There is still a lot of work to be done before the EMR comes online. Williamson is looking at 2012 before the project receives full funding to go ahead. Their proposal is currently being considered by the North East Local Health Integration Network, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada, and First Nations and Inuit Health Ontario. Once funds are in place, Giiwednong will put out a tender to EMR providers. Three have been selected from a list pre-approved by the province.
Eventually, Williamson envisions the EMR linked to the Manitoulin Health Centre in Little Current, so that patient information such as prescriptions and lab work can be transferred among systems.
Until then, Giiwednong continues to keep the participating First Nations up to date on its progress, and the communities are eager to close the gap, bringing Aboriginal health care into the future.
“For me, it’s just been a real eye-opener,” Williamson said. “I can see it helping with all of the health centres, not just medical, but all of the holistic services in terms of what a community health centre does.”
Lindsay Kelly is associate editor of the Manitoulin Expositor.