There’s no doubt that we live, work and do business in an increasingly digital world. In Canada, the healthcare industry is becoming just as digitized as the rest of our economy. Traditional paper records are disappearing quickly in favour of their digital cousin: Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). EMRs are computer systems that compile and store your unique health information—doctor’s notes, test results and treatment information—digitally.
EMRs hold great promise for improving patient care. For example, the healthcare industry’s recent shift toward total care means that many patients are treated not just by a single physician, but by a medical team. This can include a number of doctors, nurse practitioners, specialists and other healthcare providers. In the past, with paper-based files, it was often challenging to share medical records within healthcare teams. Because of this, it was hard for each healthcare provider to know a patient’s full health history, including conditions, medications and treatments.
“Effective use of EMRs leads to fewer medical errors and better patient care.”
EMRs can address this information gap by allowing all members of your medical team to securely and easily share your records. Recent evidence shows that effective use of EMRs leads to fewer medical errors and better patient care. One Canadian study found that with the introduction of EMRs, 65% of physicians report improved patient care.
Yet, in their present form, EMR systems are data-rich but information-poor. There is plenty of data being created, but it’s not being used efficiently. A big part of this is because of an age-old problem with computer systems: incompatibility. When different EMR systems cannot talk to each other, which is often the case right now, we remain stuck in a world where health information is difficult to share. Incompatibility threatens to undermine the promise of EMR systems.
We see this happening throughout our economy. Your personal data is collected and then hoarded. Some businesses will offer a digital product, but then seek to control access to its underlying data. You may have heard this referred to as a “walled garden” strategy. Within these walled gardens, a business gets to act as a gatekeeper, determining who has access to your personal data.
“When Canadians are free to control and consensually share their data, others can use it to bring new and valuable products to market.”
Walled gardens can hurt competition and innovation. When Canadians are free to control and consensually share their data, others can use it to bring new and valuable products to market, boosting Canada’s competitiveness. In healthcare, there are many innovators who want to do just that. For example, by sharing EMR data with pharmacists, we can finally get rid of paper-based prescriptions. Innovators can also use the data stored in EMRs to design “precision medicine” treatments that are tailored to each person.
Other countries have taken steps to make data-sharing easier. In the United States, the 21st Century Cures Act contains “anti-blocking” rules that require EMR providers to share data for the benefit of competition and innovation. Third-party companies, with your consent, can then safely and securely access the information stored in EMRs and use that information to offer competitive products.
As part of the Competition Bureau’s Digital Health Care market study, we are pushing for similar rules in Canada. For the last two years, we have been talking with patient groups, doctors, innovators and governments. These conversations will help enable new, digitally-based competition in Canada’s healthcare system. We are currently working to publish our results in a series of three reports:
- Our first report, published in June 2022, focused on bolstering competition by modernizing EMR rules in Canada.
- Our second report, coming this fall, examines how governments can use their purchasing role to support innovative digital healthcare products in the marketplace.
- Our third report, also coming this fall, will work to ensure that healthcare professionals are motivated to make full use of digital healthcare products.
The issue of healthcare data is just one part of the broader conversation around data mobility in Canada. Globally, governments are working to make sure we have safe and secure access to data so that entrepreneurs can innovate. For example, in Canada, we have long supported the government’s efforts to build an effective open banking regime through submissions to its Advisory Committee on Open Banking and Finance Canada. We are also studying how data mobility policies can support greater competition in Canada. We hope to publish our results on these topics next year.
“Governments can create a more competitive future for Canada by allowing consumers to control their own data today.“
We all benefit from a more competitive economy. Competition is a key catalyst for productivity and economic growth. It attracts investment, lowers inflation, stimulates the creation of high-skilled jobs and fuels exports of Canadian products, services and ideas. Governments can create a more competitive future for Canada by allowing consumers to control their own data today. By allowing the safe and secure transfer of data between businesses, Canadians are empowered to choose the provider or product that best suits their needs and in turn, Canada becomes more competitive.