HALIFAX — More than eight years after announcing the program, the Nova Scotia government has a signed a $365-million, 10-year deal with a health technology company to digitize patients' medical records, Health Minister Michelle Thompson said Wednesday.
The “One Person One Record” system will start rolling out in two years at hospitals and other health centres across Nova Scotia — which is among the last provinces still using paper medical records.
“For years, doctors and nurses and allied health-care professionals have been telling government that the current models for collecting, recording and sharing information are robbing them of valuable time they could be spending with their patients,” Thompson told reporters.
When fully implemented, the system will replace or connect more than 80 existing medical record systems, allowing thousands of health-care workers access to real-time patient data.
Thompson, who worked as a registered nurse prior to the 2021 election, said she considers the digital system to be an “absolutely essential piece of infrastructure.”
The existing systems, the minister said, are outdated, slow and don't allow information to be easily transferred between them. The province said that on average, health-care workers must access at least five systems to get a clear idea of a patient's health information.
“I’ve worked with previous systems that we’re talking about, they are dated and difficult to manage."
Thompson said the digital record system is expected to reduce surgery wait times, cut down on duplicate medical testing and improve emergency care. It will also allow paramedics travelling to an emergency to view a patient's medical records.
Talks of digitizing medical records in Nova Scotia began about two decades ago. The project was first announced in 2014 when Liberal premier Stephen McNeil was in power, and a year later the government issued a tender for the development of the One Person One Record system. Following years of consultations and preparatory work — at a cost of roughly $13 million — the province signed the 10-year contract with Oracle Cerner for the project's design, build and maintenance.
The system will require a gradual rollout, Dr. Christy Bussey, medical executive director of Nova Scotia’s central health zone, told reporters Wednesday. She said its implementation will prioritize digital support in hospitals.
“The importance of OPOR (One Person One Record) right now is that our systems in acute care are failing," Bussey said.
This means that doctors and nurse practitioners in family practices or in private walk-in clinics will have access to medical records through the system within 10 months — but won't be able to input data into the program yet.
The province says it plans to begin rolling out the system in hospitals within two years, and have it available across the province's hospital network within 42 months. Bussey said that ideally every health-care practitioner across Nova Scotia will eventually be fully linked to this system.
Dr. Stephen Lownie, a neurosurgeon with Halifax’s QEII Health Sciences Infirmary, said he’s thrilled by the province’s embrace of digital medical records, which he considers “the biggest thing since the introduction of MRI in 1989.”
Lownie, who grew up in Nova Scotia, worked for many years in an Ontario hospital equipped with a similar digital medical record system also operated by Cerner — the firm was acquired by Oracle in June 2022. Lownie said that when he returned to his home province to practise medicine, “it felt like going back in time.”
“I had to use several different apps on the hospital network to look at X-rays, to look at (lab work). There were delays; I was held up in my work. It was stressful,” he said following the announcement Wednesday.
"This is going to be great for the people of Nova Scotia," Lownie said.
Brian Sandager, a senior vice-president with Cerner, said Wednesday that Nova Scotia’s digital health model will be based on a framework developed by Cerner’s existing systems in other provinces. He said that including Nova Scotia, Cerner’s systems are deployed in health networks in all provinces except Manitoba.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press