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Alberta nurses ‘very stressed’ on Day 3 of Connect Care launch: ‘There’s some issues’

Nov. 4: Alberta Health Services launched the first wave of its new electronic health system Connect Care on Sunday. There were some technical issues and delays, but nothing unexpected, AHS said.

The first wave of Alberta Health Services‘ new electronic system Connect Care was launched three days ago and health-care workers say there are still ongoing issues.

“Connect Care is a huge undertaking,” said Marie-Therese Mageau, Local 301 union president with United Nurses of Alberta.

“My members have been extremely stressed, as would any new IT system going in anywhere,” she said on Tuesday.

“Our main concern is around patient safety, obviously. Nurses are, by nature, wanting to ensure they have all the knowledge and education in order to ensure patient safety is there.”

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Mageau, who is also a Registered Nurse, said there has been a lot of technical support and super users making the rounds on units using Connect Care.

“Are there problems? Yes, there are definitely some problems. Are they trying to address them urgently? Yes, they have lots of people on the ground trying to address it. Do I imagine that there’s going to be quick fixes and that they’re not going to have this ongoing? No. That’s why I’m hoping that within these two weeks, we really get a hold of those things that really urgently need to be addressed.”

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

The modernization will eventually be implemented province wide at all facilities that provide AHS care. The transition will be done in phases over several years. Connect Care replaces all paper charting, medication records, lab requisitions and results, and patient medical histories. It will allow health-care providers a central access point to patient information, common clinical standards and best health-care practices.

“This is the first step to really bringing people together on one system from birth to grave, which all your providers and you as a patient can access, so people can’t fall through the cracks,” said Dr. David Zygun, the Edmonton Zone medical director for Alberta Health Services.

“And yes, it will be challenging but we know the end result is right for patients.”

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The first wave was Sunday at several large Edmonton sites, including the University of Alberta Hospital, ambulatory clinics and DynaLIFE labs.

Long waits were reported at some DynaLIFE labs on Monday as the new system was rolled out. There were issues with processing samples.

Nurses very concerned about Connect Care system launching in Edmonton
Nurses very concerned about Connect Care system launching in Edmonton

An interim workflow has also been put in place to provide products from the blood bank to health sites. AHS said Tuesday the interim workflow will be in place until all sites are on Connect Care and that “access to the blood bank is not an issue.”

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Pre-launch training and practice

“My members, pre-launch, were very concerned about training, looking at what workflows would look like, what they would feel like,” Mageau said. “There was concern: ‘Am I going to be prepared enough? Do I feel prepared enough?'”

She said some nurses felt they did not receive enough training. Others felt the training provided was adequate but wanted more.

Part of the challenge, Mageau said, is that sometimes you don’t know how new tech systems will work until you’re actually working with them in real time and in real situations.

Contingency plan during system changeover

AHS says, with a change of this magnitude, delays and issues were expected and it has the infrastructure and supports in place to address them.

READ MORE: New electronic health system Connect Care launches ‘well’ but with ‘anticipated glitches’: AHS

There are also contingency plans in the event patient care might be compromised. If a delay using Connect Care could create a risk, medical staff can go back to paper charting. That happened at the U of A Hospital’s intensive care unit shortly after the launch.

“We had a short period of downtime where we reverted back to paper,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said. “We expected this and planned for it.”

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Mageau said nurses will always prioritize patient safety and are flagging any concerns with AHS management and Connect Care teams.

“I know there’s still some issues ongoing right now — urgent and non-urgent — and what I’m hearing and seeing is lots of boots on the ground.

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“Nurses will make sure it’s safe but at a cost of… With any new system it’s very, very, very stressful and the support needs to be there,” Mageau said.

“This is day three and we’re trying to look at this with professional eyes and again, the nurses are thinking we’re going to maintain the safety, we’re going to try to use this new system to the best of our abilities and if we need help, we’re going to be asking for help and expecting help.”

In addition to having extra staff and technical support teams on hand, AHS said all the old communications systems, like Net Care, can still be accessed during the changeover.

Access to information and privacy

AHS says the new system does not allow any additional access to patient information for administrators. Patient information can only be accessed by staff or physicians if it’s required as part of their job.

In fact, AHS says Connect Care will improve its ability to protect patient information.

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“This includes comprehensive auditing and monitoring capabilities through a Smart Auditing tool, which uses artificial intelligence to learn what appropriate access looks like at AHS and then flags those that don’t appear to be appropriate,” Williamson told Global News.

READ MORE: AHS blamed for breach that saw thousands of patient files improperly accessed

In order to access Connect Care, all AHS staff, physicians, midwives, students, residents, volunteers and contractors must complete a required privacy and information security training course. The training must be renewed at least every three years.

In situations where particularly confidential information is shared with certain care providers but patients don’t want it more broadly accessed, Connect Care can mask or restrict who can view specific details, AHS said.