‘Patients will be very disappointed’: Halifax doctor responds to MyHealthNS cancellation

Click to play video: 'Questions raised about MyHealthNS ending'
Questions raised about MyHealthNS ending
WATCH: Questions are being raised about why a program that was touted as a cutting edge innovation in health care is disappearing – Feb 18, 2020

Just a few years ago, both the federal and provincial governments invested millions into MyHealthNS, an online portal that put Nova Scotia on the map as a leader in progressive, digital health care.

“Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces to take this step into piloting this and we showed that it was a remarkable success and patients would love it,” said Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan, a primary care provider in Halifax.

Dr. AJ, as she’s known to her patients, was one of about 320 health-care providers that used MyHealthNS, which made Nova Scotia the first province in Canada to offer an online tool that gave patients access their health information and allowed them to communicate with their family doctor.

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For time-strapped family doctors like Jayabarathan, it was a game-changer in alleviating appointment pressures and building patient capacity.

“We showed that doctors were available 20 per cent more for their patients and it meant that patients could connect with us digitally, we could send secure messages, we could send them their test results, all kinds of different documents from the hospital and it was a huge step forward,” she said.

Dr. AJ says her capacity to see more patients in her family practice was significantly increased through the efficiencies the MyHealthNS program created. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

The pilot program for MyHealthNS started in 2012. During a three-year implementation period, the federal government invested $10 million into the program and the province invested $3 million.

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In 2016, the provincial rollout of the online digital health-care tool began.

Last August, the province announced that the company behind MyHealthNS wouldn’t be renewing its contract and that the program would be cancelled.

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As of March 31, the online portal that saw former health minister Jane Philpott on-site for its Halifax launch in 2016 will be gone.

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“I think all parties agree that it’s disappointing,” said Randy Delorey, the provincial health minister. “Those that used the MyHealth platform, by and large, were satisfied and pleased with the functionality,”

It’s not clear whether the decision for McKesson Canada not to renew its contract with the province is financially motivated.

Neither the province nor the company gave a clear answer as to why the decision was made.

Both parties pointed to each other as being the ones to ask for additional information.

“The decision not to renew the contract was not taken lightly, as discussions took place over 8 months to try and find a sustainable path forward for both McKesson Canada and the Province,” Andrew Forgione with McKesson Canada wrote in an email statement.

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Delorey says the program was an opt-in tool and that many physicians chose not to use it.

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He says once technology advanced around the use of electronic medical records (EMR), physicians found different ways of communicating with patients through electronic messaging.

However, that form of digital communication isn’t available in a streamlined online portal, like MyHealthNS was.

“That’s why we have to take that step back to look at exactly how the EMR messaging functionality works and see if it is something that can meet what we had in place,” Delorey said.

Jayabarathan says many physicians weren’t using MyHealthNS because they weren’t being appropriately compensated, or supported by the province for their time in doing so. She says when the program was first launched, a stipend was provided to doctors who used it.

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Eventually, the province increased the compensation but Jayabarathan says it wasn’t enough to generate full buy-in from all doctors, despite evidence that the software alleviated appointment pressures and increased patient capacity.

“Now, we have to go back to the old way of plodding through it,” Jayabarathan said. “I know patients will be very disappointed but as a doctor, here we are in the middle of a health-care crisis, I’m in the process of trying to take on new patients and I had 20 per cent more availability when I had it. Now I don’t have it.”

There is currently no replacement program for MyHealthNS.

In the meantime, patients have until March 31 to download their personal data before it is securely destroyed by the province.

Delorey says the province is working to find new ways of using technology to improve patient care.

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