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Alberta nurses have ‘grave concerns’ with rollout of Connect Care system planned for Sunday

WATCH: Some Edmonton health facilities are bracing for potential delays and technical issues this Sunday as Alberta Health Services begins a phased launch of a new electronic patient record system. Emily Mertz has more on Connect Care and AHS' plan.

A new electronic system that will eventually be used across all Alberta Health Services facilities is scheduled to launch at some Edmonton locations at 4 a.m. Sunday.

Connect Care will replace paper charting, paper medication records, paper lab requisitions and results, and paper patient medical histories. It will allow health-care providers a central access point to patient information, common clinical standards and best health-care practices.

However, some health-care workers are raising concerns about the transition to Connect Care, the limited training and practice they’ve had using it, the system’s readiness and the potential impact on patients.

“Yes, there have been concerns raised about Connect Care,” Karen Craik, secretary-treasurer of the United Nurses of Alberta, said in Calgary on Thursday.

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“The phases are starting in Edmonton and we’re hoping we’ll have some discussions with the employers because there are grave concerns about the education that’s required for all staff, not just registered nurses, and how that will impact patient care.”

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AHS said the new system is set to be implemented in waves. The first round begins early Sunday morning at several Edmonton facilities, including the University of Alberta Hospital, Stollery Children’s Hospital, Kaye Edmonton Clinic, Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, Addictions and Mental Health Bed Management. The first round also includes several ambulatory clinics, Alberta precision labs, diagnostic labs and Dynalife.

“It really is about improving co-ordination and communication across the health system,” said Sean Chilton, an AHS executive. “We’re doing that through the implementation of a provincial clinical information system that will integrate health records across the entire province.”

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The Connect Care transition has been in the works since 2016.

AHS says more than 19,000 users, including more than 3,000 physicians, have undergone “extensive training for several months, including onsite training in our hospitals and clinics,” the agency said on its website.

“It’s a massive undertaking and we anticipate that there will be some challenges,” Chilton told Global News on Friday.

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“We anticipate that it won’t be as smooth as we may like it to be, but we’ve put significant time, energy and effort into putting the systems in place so we can respond quickly and appropriately and ensure we can continue to provide safe care.”

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Those first-wave centres — like the Stollery and the U of A Hospital — will have additional staff and about 500 superusers to help staff navigate the system and troubleshoot any issues. Technical experts will also be on site for the Sunday launch.

The first-wave centres have also slightly reduced the number of planned clinics and appointments during the changeover. Another contingency plan will see an option for staff to go back to paper charting if necessary.

If there are delays associated with implementing Connect Care, a health-care team will divert patients to other centres.

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AHS said health-care workers’ concerns are being heard and the launch date is being continually evaluated.

“At the current time, we’re confident with our readiness for implementation,” Chilton said. “We’ve done a lot of work to get ready. The units are saying, ‘Let’s go today. We want go today and we want to make sure we do it the right way.’

“There’s a lot of energy [and] there’s a lot of enthusiasm but we’re monitoring. We’re constantly looking to make sure that things are in place and we’re ready, and if we needed to make a decision on a delay, we absolutely would do.
“But for us, patient safety [and] patient care is paramount, and if we see those potentially impacted, then we’ll make that decision on a delay being needed.”

Epic Software, the vendor for Connect Care, is used in Europe, parts of the U.S. and in Ottawa and Toronto, Chilton said.

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“From a patient perspective, we hope that they don’t see a change to the way the care is delivered,” he said.

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“Things might be a little bit slower, they might see more people around, they might see nurses helping other nurses [and] clinicians helping other clinicians while they try to work their way through the system, but from a care perspective, our hope is that there’s no change.”

The complete Alberta rollout is set to take place over years, beginning Nov. 3 and running into fall 2022.