Yukon moves towards eHealth

Parts of Yukon health records are being modernized in an attempt to be better prepared for a disease outbreak.

Parts of Yukon health records are being modernized in an attempt to be better prepared for a disease outbreak.

The territory has signed an agreement with British Columbia to be included in the bigger province’s electronic tracking system.

Known as Panorama, the program keeps track of data on about 60 different diseases that are “under surveillance,” explained Cathy Stannard, the Yukon’s director of community health programs.

That includes everything from measles, mumps and meningitis to influenza.

Once the system is up and running, possibly by the end of the year, lab results completed in British Columbia and reports from specialists in both jurisdictions will be able to be sent back and forth over the electronic system.

“What happens now is that everything is done by paper, so you can imagine how complicated that can be in the world of paper and faxing and phoning and all of those complexities when we’re looking at the management of communicable disease,” Stannard said.

The old system still works, she said, but this one will be more advanced.

“We’re really moving from a very old-fashioned, paper-based system to a very well established computerized system that was built to manage communicable disease events.”

The IBM-developed system has been in use in British Columbia since 2011.

Stannard said there was no way the Yukon could establish something similar on its own.

The Department of Health and Social Services has a long-standing relationship with British Columbia when it comes to things like this.

“We don’t necessarily always have that expertise at our fingertips in the territory, but we do have that expertise in British Columbia. So we looked at who are our partners right now, who do we have working relationships with, and it was British Columbia,” she said.

Along with information on communicable diseases, the Panorama system will also be the new home for the territory’s vaccination records.

Those are currently computerized, but the system is old and needs updating, Stannard said.

Now, if someone tests positive for a disease that is preventable with a vaccine, officials will be able to tell if the people they’ve come in contact with have been vaccinated.

“We would be able to use that system to communicate with the nurse in Dawson City to say, ‘Heads up, we have this person whose been (connected) to a case of mumps and we need you to have a conversation with them,” she said.

The same system will also track the Yukon’s vaccine inventory – how many doses of a particular vaccine each community has.

Currently the government uses an Excel spreadsheet.

Moving records on to Panorama has not been without obstacles for some jurisdictions.

In 2009 Nova Scotia suspended plans to use the system.

“In 2004 there was a national aspiration that Canada would move to one information system… Like most other jurisdictions, Nova Scotia started work to look at Panorama and what we found was that there was a few problems with Panorama,” said Dr. Frank Atherton, deputy chief public health officer for Nova Scotia.

It was too early in its development and the program was seen as a complicated system with “too many bells and whistles,” he said.

“The third thing was that it was very expensive, particularly for smaller provinces,” he said.

At that time the cost for Nova Scotia was pegged at around $11 million.

When plans were halted in 2009 $1.3 million had been spent on the Nova Scotia program. The federal government invested about $1.16 million and the province paid the rest.

Years later Nova Scotia is back to deciding what to do to update its information system.

Atherton said Panorama is still in the running. “Our understanding is that it’s now more developed than it was, and it’s certainly one of the options that we would consider.”

In Yukon there is $596,000 in this year’s territorial budget for the project. Over six years the government has already spent about $975,000 preparing for the switch. According to the Department of Health and Social services, “the majority of these costs were for internal staff.”

The territory paid $85,000 to British Columbia to take part.

Moving personal data between two jurisdictions did raise some issues.

Yukoners’ personal information stored in B.C. servers and used for Panorama is subject to B.C.‘s privacy laws.

In order to participate, the Yukon government had to update its privacy laws. The new Health Information Privacy and Management Act, which was first tabled late last year, allows for information to be shared with authorized people outside the territory such as the B.C. government, said department spokesperson Pat Living.

Stannard said the private information kept on Panorama would be limited to basic details like your name, address and health card number, alongside information specifically related to the diseases the territory is concerned about.

“Those are the diseases that we’re worried about. We’re worried if you have measles, we’re worried about if you’ve got mumps and you’re walking around in the general public. That’s the information that would be collected,” she said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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