In a breakthrough initiative that is expected to greatly improve healthcare delivery, four First Nations communities in Alberta have announced a move from paper-based immunization records to a digital database, with three more communities expected to come online before March.
The Community Health & Immunization Program (CHIP) is a centralized, easy-to-track system for recording vaccinations electronically. It aims to become the first program in Alberta to seamlessly communicate with the provincial health registry, creating a complete record of a First Nation patient's immunizations that is viewable in any clinic that also uses CHIP. The system was developed by OKAKI Health Intelligence as a service for First Nations communities, with start-up funding and technical support contributed by Cybera.
Through the use of CHIP, health providers expect the number of First Nations residents who are under- or over-immunized ' and thus subject to preventable diseases or unnecessary vaccinations ' to be dramatically reduced.
With added sponsorship support from international healthcare company, Pfizer, more than 30,000 immunization records of children and adults have been digitally recorded across the Stoney, Siksika, Kehewin and Frog Lake First Nations, with plans to expand to many more communities within the next year.
'In Alberta, First Nations are the only communities that still have paper-based records,' notes Dr. Salim Samanani, Medical Director for OKAKI in Canada. 'The provincial immunization registry maintained by Alberta Health & Wellness has no information on the vaccinations delivered on First Nations, so there is no way for health service providers or public health authorities to get a complete picture of the immunizations received (or not received) by First Nations residents. This has led to communities with higher rates of vaccine-preventable illnesses than in the rest of the province.'
To correct this disparity, OKAKI worked closely with Siksika and Stoney health leaders to develop a digitized system that could be quickly and easily implemented, while meeting or exceeding provincial privacy and data standards. The resulting trial provided CHIP software and training to healthcare workers in these communities in time for the start of the 2011 school year and influenza season. Within weeks, thousands of immunization records were digitized, including historical records for patients aged five and under.
Besides the obvious benefits to public health, the system is expected to significantly reduce the many hours health workers spend in recording and tracking vaccinations. 'Previously, our staff was entering this information in five different places,' says Darlene Richter, Manager of Nursing at the Stoney Health Centre. 'We had to go through countless binders to pull together the statistics required for immunization reporting. Now, we can easily access this information in one place.'
Robin Winsor, President and CEO of Cybera, notes that CHIP is already drawing international attention for its efficiency and simplicity. 'This demonstrates the value that cyberinfrastructure can add to all aspects of our lives, including the quality of healthcare,' says Winsor. 'This endeavor is very much in line with Cybera's mandate to spur and support innovation in the province for the benefit of every Albertan.'
As of early December, CHIP has grown to include health centres in the Kehewin and Frog Lake communities, and three more communities will come online in the next few months. The system is also expected to expand to include other community health information, such as reportable diseases and child health assessments.
John Helou, General Manager, Specialty Care, Pfizer Canada, notes, 'Pfizer is proud to have been able to contribute to the implementation of an electronic system that helps First Nation communities track and monitor infectious disease occurrences and vaccinations in their communities. Having an efficient and cost-effective way to do this is vital to healthy communities.'
'I hope this system will be shared with provincial health units and First Nations communities across Canada,' adds Gisele Gagne, Nurse in Charge at the Kehewin Health Centre. 'But even if it is not, the difference it is making for our community has already been dramatic.'
Communications Officer, Cybera
* INTERVIEWS & PHOTOS: Representatives from the Stoney, Siksika, Kehewin and Frog Lake First Nations health centres are available for press interviews. Professional photos from Robin Winsor's recent tour of the Stoney Health Centre are also available for media use.*
About OKAKI Health Intelligence
OKAKI is a social enterprise, founded in 2008, with an aim to maximize the public impact of programs through improved use of information. OKAKI provides comprehensive professional public health information services. OKAKI manages all technical aspects of CHIP implementation including project management, privacy training, information policy development, application development, application hosting, information analysis and information use to improve immunization program performance.