Canadian doctors behind the curve on using technology to improve services: CIHI report

Women shouldn't skip regular examinations, despite the pandemic, says a Winnipeg gynecologist. Getty Images

Canadian family doctors are better than average when it comes to being accessible to their patients but slower to adopt the use of technology to communicate.

That’s according to a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the U.S.-based Commonwealth Fund.

Tracy Johnson, CIHI’s director of health systems analysis and emerging issues, told Global News the report, which surveyed 2,500 primary care and family physicians across Canada, shows a marked increase in doctors using electronic medical records (EMRs) compared to a decade ago.

Still, Johnson notes there’s room for improvement.

Tracy Johnson
Tracy Johnson.

“What we can see is that we’ve gone from about 37 per cent back in 2009 to about 86 per cent of family physicians across the country now having electronic medical records,” said Johnson.

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“We’ve been on the adoption curve, so now we need to move into the use of those and using them in a more advanced way so that we can organize our practices better — bring up alerts for vaccinations or glucose tests.”

READ MORE: Manitobans satisfied with hospital stays — CIHI survey


The survey results indicate Canadian family doctors are increasingly becoming available to their patients outside of traditional office hours, with a 57 per cent increase in weeknight hours and a 50 per cent increase in weekend hours.

However, only 23 per cent of survey respondents offered the option to ask medical questions via email or a secure website, and only 10 per cent offered online prescription renewal requests.

These numbers are well below average among the 11 Commonwealth Fund countries, which include Canada, Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.

Johnson said it’s a matter of doctors becoming more comfortable with the technology and, more importantly, learning from each other about how EMRs can improve services for both medical providers and their patients.

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“Doctors have their own EMRs, but they don’t talk to each other yet,” said Johnson. “The co-ordination across departments still isn’t there.

“Some of the next best steps are to try to use some of that advanced functionality in those records and try to find other ways to have patients access care.

“There’s enough variation across this country that we can all learn from each other. No one province is good at all of these things.”

Simon Hagens, senior director of Canada Health Infoway, an organization dedicated to advancing digital health in Canada, said that while there’s work to be done, the increase in EMR use over the past decade is a positive step.

“There has been significant growth in EMR adoption and use among Canadian primary care physicians over the past decade and a closing of the gap with our international peers,” Hagens said.

The CIHI study interviewed thousands of doctors in all 11 of the Commonwealth Fund countries, including physicians in all Canadian provinces and territories.

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