Abstract

Alberta is at the leading edge in developing its electronic health record (EHR), a provincial initiative to provide healthcare providers with immediate access to a patient's medication history and laboratory test results, regardless of where they are in the province, or where the patient's drugs or other treatments were ordered. The Alberta EHR was launched in October 2003. So far 6,000 healthcare providers have voluntarily signed on to use it, and benefits to patient safety have been reported. The EHR is an important part of healthcare renewal that is required to improve patient safety; however, it must not be viewed as a stand alone cure-all solution to Canada's patient safety challenge. The EHR will only reach its full potential if it is part of an integrated approach to health renewal that stresses consistency of healthcare, practice and information standards, and consistency and standardization of healthcare data. Without a sector-wide EHR like Alberta's, the proliferation of computerized electronic medical records (EMRs) in hospitals, clinics and pharmacies might create "islands of information" that are not widely compatible. A national EHR approach must acknowledge the importance of improving broadly accepted practice standards and data consistency in order to reduce the islands of information and protect patients from medical errors as they move between them.