Razor: Health lessons from the Rogers outage — keep your paper records

We have become too reliant on technology, and I don’t fully trust the current electronic medical record system — for several reasons.

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Recently, when I was distributing paper documents in my Appletree office, some may have thought of me as a dinosaur. With Rogers’ prolonged outage, I feel vindicated.

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Granted, I use electronic medical records at work. As a general internist, I am often asked to see people who have diagnostic problems and I often search the internet for other possible causes of their symptoms. I use the EMR to complete laboratory and diagnostic imaging requisitions and orders. At home, I research articles on the Internet and have published over 900 of them.

Yet, I feel like we have become too dependent on technology and I don’t fully trust the current electronic medical records system for several reasons.

Unfortunately, in Ontario, there are several silos of information. The Ottawa Hospital system does not communicate with the Queensway Carleton Hospital, private laboratories or physicians’ offices. Hence the need — despite numerous criticisms — to transfer the results by FAX. (I suspect Alberta Netcare is quite secure and much more transparent than our own province’s system.)

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Unfortunately, patients seeking care in an emergency department may find their past records temporarily inaccessible. The worst attack took place last October and affected all four health regions in Newfoundland and Labrador. A ransomware attack hit Humber River Hospital in Toronto in June 2021.

Kemptville District Hospital was temporarily closed on October 21, 2021. Rideau Valley in Barrhaven and Arnprior Regional Health suffered attacks in December 2021.

In 2020 and 2021, in the United States, there were at least 168 ransomware attacks affecting 1,763 clinics, hospitals, and healthcare organizations.

So my approach is as follows: I give patients a printed copy of my initial 1-2 page consultation letter, along with blood results, ultrasound and x-ray reports, etc. I strongly encourage them to make multiple copies, with one set in their car’s glove box and another with their passport.

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They can give a set to their family doctor (if applicable), to other specialists in Ottawa, and also during a CT scan, MRI, etc. to provide additional information that would aid in the interpretation of these diagnostic tests.

As COVID restrictions ease, Canadians are increasingly traveling to other parts of their country and internationally. By carrying hard copies of their health records with them, they should have easy access to this information if they need urgent and unforeseen health care in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, the United States, Europe, etc.

This will be a great help to the ER worker in the emergency department as it provides baseline results and can save money by avoiding duplication of recent lab results that probably haven’t changed in any way significant.

Patients can use internet portals if they wish, but I also urge them to keep paper records in multiple locations as a backup that can be accessed 24/7 by healthcare providers around the world. .

Ottawa doctor Dr. Charles S. Shaver was born in Montreal. He is Past Chair of the General Internal Medicine Section of the Ontario Medical Association. The views here are his.

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