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Are there alternatives to fax in Canada’s health care systems?

On May 12, the Canadian Press reported that, across Canada, the practice of recording deaths by fax was archaic. Under this method, physicians record deaths on paper and then fax the information to Statistics Canada, which compiles the data. It can take years for public health authorities to have access to reliable death records.

As a result, it is very difficult to have real-time data on the number of deaths in Canada. This is even more alarming in a pandemic situation. With regard to the mortality rate attributable to COVID-19, this means that the data are lagging behind, which may be detrimental to public health.

Can Canada and Quebec still make a digital transformation in health? If so, how? And why are they slow to propose sustainable solutions? These are essential questions that the media asked Dr. Jean-François Ethier, GRIIS scientific co-director.

In a radio interview at Drainville PM, Dr. Ethier explained that the technology gap is due to underinvestment in public health. Governments have invested more in services with which citizens interact directly, such as the Dossier santé Québec (DSQ) or electronic medical records (EMRs) that physicians use in clinics.

Dr. Ethier emphasized that Quebec has the technical skills and scientific knowledge to create effective digital health solutions. For example, in collaboration with the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, the GRIIS has developed a platform that allows health managers to ensure that the right doctors are in the right place during the pandemic.

Dr. Ethier also described PARS3, a platform recognized by the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux as a secure solution to facilitate the exchange of data from EHRs. Through PARS3, physicians in clinics will have access to their patients’ laboratory and prescription data, provided their patients give their consent.

In an interview on the radio program Par ici l’info, Dr. Ethier noted that Alberta and Nova Scotia have already implemented digital data transfer solutions. This means that public health in these provinces receives information in real time.

While the solutions, skills and knowledge exist, it also takes both political and civic commitment to improve the situation. During his appearance on TVA’s Salut Bonjour program, Dr. Ethier said he would like authorities to develop a long-term vision in the area of digital health.

Canada and Quebec are struggling with various computer systems that have difficulty communicating with each other. Each system uses its own language to meet specific needs. A solution such as PARS3 will make it easier to exchange data between these systems.

Drawing on the European model, Dr. Ethier argued that we can envision a health system where data is accessible in a confidential and secure manner.

The development of a more efficient and fair health system requires political will. This will to move quickly seems to be present at the moment. It will not be enough to simply inject substantial investments, said Dr. Ethier. It is only half the solution. It will also require that everyone wants the new solution.


July 7, 2020 – The Salut Bonjour video on the TVA website has been archived and is no longer available. It was the broadcast of Friday, June 5, 2020.

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