Access to EMR data expands for B.C. physicians as pandemic unfolds

Expanded access to anonymized data from B.C. electronic medical records comes amid pandemic


At his practice in Surrey, Dr. Lawrence Yang has at times wondered how other physicians in his community have been handling cases such as diabetes, cancer and addiction.

“We were never really able to put anonymized data — but data that’s relevant to the community — altogether in one visualization,” he said.

That’s changing as of late April, when the Victoria-based Health Data Coalition expanded its data-sharing application allowing B.C. family doctors to compare electronic medical records (EMR).

Physicians may opt in to share anonymized data from their communities with provincial averages, while the data itself cannot be linked back to any particular individual as there are no names or any other identifiers included in the information physicians are comparing.

The Health Data Coalition is the first not-for-profit to get its application certified by the Privacy By Design framework.

In Yang’s case, he discovered his own opioid prescribing rates were higher than the provincial average.

“Family physicians from a neighbourhood can come together and look at their data on this platform that joins all the different silos of data within the community. And then we can take more of a data-informed approach to the different health initiatives that we’re doing,” he told Business in Vancouver. 

“Before, much of our population work is really extrapolations and guesswork, and this really allows us to get a lot more granular.”

The Health Data Coalition worked with the province and tech companies to provide access to the data.

The not-for-profit organization signed an agreement with Telus Corp. (TSX:T) and Intrahealth Canada Ltd. in 2018 to expand the original application, which was previously only open to users of the Medical Office Information System and the EMR system known as OSCAR.

With last month’s expansion of the program, Vancouver-based Well Health Technologies Corp. (TSX:WELL) signed on to ensure OSCAR users could maintain access.

The expansion means the majority of primary care physicians across B.C. have access to the data should they enroll in the program.

Yang said expanded applications means doctors could potentially use the system to track screenings and vaccinations as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.

“Pandemics are really scary and they bring to attention the fact that our infrastructure isn’t always linked,” he said.