Connect Care welcomes input from IMAGINE Citizens

Connect Care is a new clinical information system being designed to link Alberta Health Services facilities, programs and services. Learn more about this collaborative effort being launched in the fall of 2019.

It will replace around 1,300 existing systems and is described by Alberta Health Services (AHS) as an initiative “that will transform how health care is provided” in this province. It is about “connecting patients, health-care teams and information to ensure the care we provide is appropriate and consistent no matter where you are in Alberta.”

Connect Care is a collaborative effort that involves the provincial Health Ministry, AHS staff, clinicians, patients and families. The aim, according to AHS, is to improve care and safety for Albertans.

Over the past year, patient and family advisers from around the province were part of six Connect Care sessions in Edmonton and Calgary. The first three were for direction-setting and the last three were for adoption and validation of various workflows and directions for software development.

At each session, there were between 1,500 and 2,000 participants. I attended three sessions, one for direction setting and two for adoption and validation. At each of these, there were about 20 other patient/family advisers. We were recruited from various groups, such as AHS patient advisers, IMAGINE Citizens, and the Health Quality Council of Alberta.

Most AHS attendees were there as content experts in areas such as surgery, oncology, emergency and public health. As patient advisers, we could choose areas of interest or where we thought it important for patients to be present. This provided us with a very broad view at the complexity of the project. It also provided a citizen voice at many different sessions over the six consultations.

For example, at the third and final Adoption and Validation event in September, a few of the sessions I attended were on releasing records to patients (Health Information Management), MyChart releasing results (the patient portal), bedside procedures (Orders),  transitions from the emergency department to inpatient (ASAP module), family communication (surgeries), obstetrical ultrasound, delivery (Stork/OBGYN), population health registries (Healthy Planet), sedation. These were a small percentage of the more than 80 available sessions.

Session facilitators were well-trained and listened well, and copious notes were made of comments, questions or concerns. Patient advisers were welcomed at each session and encouraged to speak. Our observations were welcomed and we received many thanks from other participants for attending. The presence of patients helped keep the focus on patient care and patient needs, not just on what was going to work for the providers.

Over the course of these sessions, and the continuing involvement of patient advisers on various Connect Care working groups as well as rural voices (professional and patient), I saw a shift from an urban/large facility focus. There was increasing recognition that patients receive care and providers provide that care in a variety of settings around the province. Patient advisers forcefully spoke up about the importance of having access to their own health records and made it clear that having two patient portals was not acceptable.

I am impressed with how AHS has approached this massive technical and change management undertaking from a bottom-up, sideways, and top-supported manner. Everyone is aware that adequate training and support is needed for staff and that there will be bumps along the road. But overall, I would say there is excitement about the potential for improved care and safety.

The software vendor, Epic, has done many large projects around the world, but has never worked with patient advisers. When I spoke with Epic staff, they expressed their appreciation for having this important perspective represented. I’ve noticed a change in tone between the first session I attended and the last one.

While the large consultation sessions are complete, the work continues. If you would like to know more or stay up to date, AHS provides regular Connect Care newsletters. You will not be able to access all materials linked in the newsletters, but you can get a sense of the work as it proceeds.

The Connect Care rollout will begin in November 2019 and will continue over nine waves, finishing in November 2022. You can see a graphic showing the rollout schedule here.

The way in which Connect Care information will flow to patients and community providers (such as family physicians) is becoming clearer as the Health Ministry and AHS work together will professional organizations to ensure the patient information is available to us through one online source.

In early 2019, we will be able to sign up for access through the new MyHealthRecords portal to some of our records now available in Netcare (lab results, vaccinations, and prescriptions filled through a pharmacy). As Connect Care rolls out, more of our information from AHS records will flow into that portal and we will eventually be able to add and edit materials. Stay tuned!

Testing for much of the work we completed reviewing in September is scheduled for testing in November and completion in November 2019.

The vision for a province-wide clinical information system is evident in the 2015 Alberta Health Services Information Management and Technology Strategic Plan.

Although the plan does not use the term Connect Care, it summarizes the reasons for such a strategy:

  • the need to have a single integrated patient record
  • the ability to meet ever-changing consumer expectations and trends in technology
  • the ability to meet challenging health needs
  • AHS’s need for modern and reliable Information Technology
  • the need to find a balance between privacy, access and collaboration
  • the need for consistent clinical standards and content

All of this was tied to AHS’s Patient First strategy that “recognizes that patients and families need proper and timely communication about their care and seamless transitions when moving through services and facilities.”

About the Author

Leslie Ayre-Jaschke is a retired evaluation consultant and long-time resident of Peace River. She is very engaged with IMAGINE Citizens activities as Operations Committee Co-chair and Lead for the Theory of Change Project.