This summer, my family travelled to St. Catharines, to watch my 16-year-old daughter, Anna, compete in the 130th Royal Canadian Henley rowing regatta. It promised to be a wonderful adventure: watching some spectacular rowing in an absolutely beautiful part of Canada.
Earlier in the summer, I’d had some minor surgery, to replace my portacath. This is a medical appliance inserted under my skin, and how I get my weekly intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). I had to have my port replaced because the old one got infected. Surgery went well and I got my first treatment using the new port a week before we flew to Ontario.
Our trip there was uneventful. St. Catharines is a lovely town that edges on Niagara on the Lake and has some lovely old homes and very friendly people. We got to watch a lot of rowing. The event is amazing: races run every 6 minutes from dawn until dusk for 11 days without getting behind schedule!
I was pleased that things were going so smoothly for me, health-wise. My only problem was some slight leakage from my new port. I wasn’t too worried about it though. I kept it clean and applied some antibiotic ointment a few times a day.
We had just returned to our hotel after a fun day of sightseeing and enjoying Niagara Falls. We were packing up and planning our last day, before our evening flight home. I finished packing and went to bed.
Sometime in the middle of the night, I became feverish and wasn’t responding to my husband, John. My port site was draining a lot and my husband didn’t know what to do. Thinking I had come down with a flu bug, he figured I’d feel better after I’d slept some more.
But when it came time to catch our flight, it became clear I was far too ill to get on the plane. John decided I needed emergency medical care; with some difficultly (it was the middle of the night), he found a hospital, a very old and busy hospital with a very busy emergency room.
When they saw how sick I was, they got me in quickly and I was seen by a doctor within minutes. The doctor determined that I was septic and needed to be admitted to the ICU immediately. Within minutes I had many lines put in and tests run to see what was causing my illness.
I got fantastic care in St. Catherines. The doctors and nurses really took what John said to heart and all my allergies and medical issues were respected. When I finally returned to some semblance of normal a few days later, I learned that my port had become septic and had to be removed. I was put on some pretty heavy antibiotics and also received my IVIG treatment.
My husband told my story many times that night to many different health care providers. I did too, with every new staff member who was in my charge. Looking back now, I believe this whole adventure would have been easier if we had electronic health records. The doctors there would have been able to see all my health information and former ICU admissions. Because I’m immune suppressed, providers have trouble diagnosing a major infection until I am very sick – like I was in St. Catharines.
I attended a seminar recently on electronic health records; by some strange coincidence, I’d signed up for it before my trip. I learned that “the vision for the Saskatchewan Electronic Health Record (EHC) is getting the right information, to the right individual, at the right time, in the right place, to:
• improve quality of patient care through informed decision making,
• improve the patient experience through the coordination of service delivery,
• improve overall efficiency and sustainability of the health sector,
• inform management decision-making and provide the necessary information base,
• support planning, outcome measurement, accountability and research.
The Saskatchewan EHR will give authorized healthcare providers rapid access to patients’ pertinent, up-to-date health information to support clinical decision-making and case management. A shared patient-centric health record will provide a longitudinal view of an individual’s key health history and care including:
• prescribed drugs
• chronic disease management
• laboratory test results
• diagnostic reports and images, and
• visit information
All of this information and more can be found on the Health Ministry’s website. While we are still in the early stages in Saskatchewan, it is exciting to see how things are evolving; As patients, we really don’t think too much about health records. But when you’re sick, all of this important information could speed up your care, whether you’re in your hometown, elsewhere in Saskatchewan, or even elsewhere in Canada or the world.
In retrospect, having an EHR in place could have made my hospital visit in Ontario much more efficient, considerably less stressful, and perhaps even less dangerous for all involved. Luckily, my husband had considerable knowledge about my specific peculiarities and allergies, as I was not fully able to communicate them myself. Electronic health records could, essentially, become a patient’s voice when the patient doesn’t have one.