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Canadian doctors don't share their patients' records either

November 3, 2008 |  3:37 pm


If ever a case was made for electronic health records, perhaps this is it. Researchers in Canada reviewing the records of 3,250 patients found that information from a previous medical visit was available only 22% of the time when the patients saw another doctor. So much for continuity of care.

The study, examined patients discharged from the medical or surgical units of 11 community and academic hospitals in Ontario, Canada. Patients in the study saw at least two different doctors during the six months after discharge. The researchers looked at whether the information from a previous visit with another doctor was available at the current visit. The study, published today in the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal, found that family physicians and the patient's regular doctors were much more likely to receive information from previous visits but those same doctors were less likely to transmit information to other doctors.

"We believe that poor exchange of information between physicians caring for the same patient may be detrimental to the quality of patient care," said the authors of the study, from the Ottawa Health Research Institute. Sometimes, doctors use hand-written notes that are difficult to transfer, the study noted. Other times, doctors aren't aware of visits to other doctors or they may think the records from previous visits aren't necessary.

The poor exchange of records among doctors is an "unpleasant truth," an editorial accompanying the study stated. The traditional methods of sharing information (hospital discharge papers, referral letters and visit summaries) "have remained largely unchanged for decades," said the authors of the editorial, Dr. Robert J. Reid and Dr. Edward H. Wagner of the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle. The shift to electronic health records should improve the continuity of care but will not ensure it, they said.

- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times