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Access to health data from electronic medical records in Quebec

The ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux mandates a research group from the Université de Sherbrooke to roll out a strict and secure access system.

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Last August, the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) recognized the Learning Platform for Research and Social Services (PARS3) as an informatics-based solution that will be used to extract health data from electronic medical records (EMRs) throughout the province of Quebec.

To support the implementation of priority projects, the ministère entrusts the Interdisciplinary Research Group in Health Informatics (GRIIS) to tie PARS3 with certified EMRs.

PARS3 is designed by the GRIIS, at the Université de Sherbrooke, as part of the work of the Data Access Component of the Quebec SRAP Support Unit, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR).

The scientific co-directors of GRIIS, Dr. Jean-François Ethier and Prof. Luc Lavoie, lead a team of about 50 people who are addressing the challenges posed by the abundance and disparity of health data in the digital age.

Reliable health data is needed to provide solutions to today’s health challenges. Health data of citizens are no longer collected and stored only in hospitals or at the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ). In fact, private physician offices and family medicine groups (FMG) also record a multitude of health data using EMRs.

However, these data are recorded in each EMR by means of different methods. These data cannot be communicated to other people without the explicit consent of citizens. In the province of Quebec, a little less than a dozen EMRs has been certified by the MSSS.

The MSSS therefore hopes that EMR health data will be available to improve the quality of life of citizens and the efficiency of the health system. This transformation will be possible through research and knowledge transfer. This should be done with the consent of citizens through a patient-centred approach to care and research.

PARS3 will be able to respond to these challenges. The platform provides access to health data only with the required authorizations that are given, for example, by citizens, ethics review boards, the public health directorate or the Commission d’accès à l’information. PARS3 incorporates methods to ensure that EMR health data will be used in accordance with the rules and laws that govern scientific research, delivery of care and knowledge transfer.

The MSSS is relying on PARS3 and EMR providers to pursue priority health projects in the coming years. The use of EMR clinical data—for research and to help clinicians reflect about how they treat their patients—is part of a learning health system that is citizen-centred in a fair and efficient way.

The GRIIS and the Quebec SRAP Support Unit are proud to join this effort to improve health care and the health system.