CEO SUMMARY: In British Columbia, two commercial laboratory companies are intense competitors. Yet, beginning in 2002, they jointly offered a single Web browser-based system for lab test results reporting. LOINC was the tool which linked their individual lab data repositories to the PathNET portal. Now the provincial health ministry has authorized the use of PathNET to allow physicians to access its patient drug history data base.
IN BRITISH COLUMBIA, the province-wide laboratory test results reporting system, called PathNET, now includes pharmaceutical data.
This is a significant milestone for PathNET, which is a Web-browser based system that allows physicians throughout British Columbia to access lab test reports. PathNET is unusual because of one fact: its owners are two competing commercial laboratory companies.
Competing Labs Collaborate
BC Biomedical Laboratories and MDS Metro Laboratory Services formed PathNet in 2000. Its original goal was to be a value-added service to office-based physicians in the province. Between them, the two lab companies perform 70% of the outpatient tests ordered by physicians in British Columbia. PathNET uses LOINC® (Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes) to combine lab test result data produced by each laboratory. (See TDR, August 26, 2002.)
“Adding pharmaceutical data to PathNET is a major step forward for integrated information services in British Columbia,” stated Tom Cooney, M.D., President of PathNET. “Physicians will now be able to click on the PathNET icon, obtain the test results for their patient, then go directly into the Pharmanet data base and obtain that patient’s drug history.
“Prior to this new arrangement, the pharmaceutical data base was housed at the British Columbia Ministry of Health (BCMH),” he explained. “It provided patients’ drug histories to emergency rooms and pharmacies and, in a pilot program, up to 100 office-based physicians. The interface between PathNET and BCMH’s Pharmanet expands the number of physicians who can access patient drug histories to 3,400!”
“This will be an incredible time saver and will contribute significantly to improved patient care,” observed Cooney. “Patient privacy protections are built into the drug history data base and all compliance issues have been addressed.”
Pharmanet service will be available to physicians at no charge. Discussions are in progress between PathNET and the Ministry of Health regarding the incremental costs of educating physicians about the feature and how to access it through PathNET.
Lab IT Is Access Point
“Enabling access to the patient drug history data base through the PathNET Web portal validates a major business assumption we made when BC Biomedical and MDS Metro initially created this information services joint venture,” said Cooney. “We saw the need to develop integrated access to clinical data and patient information. Healthcare is moving toward a fully-digital information system. We believed it essential that laboratories play a leading role in integrating and digitizing laboratory test data.
“PathNET has been a solid success in British Columbia. When it launched in early 2001, it served office-based physicians. Since then, four major hospitals have linked emergency rooms and pre-admission clinics to PathNET. The interface with Pharmanet was another major enhancement,” explained Cooney.
Two Other Developments
“Even as I am speaking with you, there is progress on two other important developments which will use PathNET as a major IT access point for healthcare providers,” he continued. “For example, we are moving forward with the Native Investment and Trade Association (NITA), a national Aboriginal group, to enable PathNET services to go nation-wide in Canada in the creation of an electronic medical summary for First Nations people.
“Another initiative involves patient scheduling,” Cooney said. “A physician developed a data base to automate specialist physician availability for appointments. There is a pilot program under way to determine if PathNET is the right vehicle for delivering this service to the physicians. Early indications are that physicians are most receptive to this additional service.”
PathNET’s growth and progress since its launch in 2001 validates predictions made by THE DARK REPORT at that time. We believed that BC Biomedical Labs and MDS Metro Labs—two companies which compete intensely against each other—were taking few risks in creating an effective Web browser-based system to allow physicians to view lab tests. The order entry module, allowing physicians to order lab tests from the office is in the final development phase.
Using LOINC To Advantage
Our prediction was that PathNET, once it was in operation, was likely to become an access point for other clinical information and services. Because it was using LOINC as the tool to combine information flows from each lab’s test data repository, that would make it easy for other laboratories in the province to make their lab test services available through PathNET. Valley Medical Laboratory, another major community lab in BC, now uses the system and its lab test data is part of the integrated database.
Further, THE DARK REPORT has always believed that regional collaboration between laboratories, whether or not they are competitors, has the potential to create a critical mass which, in itself, adds value to clinicians, payers, and patients. What is notable in British Columbia is how two commercial lab ventures have succeeded in this dimension of their regional collaboration.
Will PathNET play a major role in helping develop whatever final form of universal patient medical record format is developed in British Columbia? That is an intriguing possibility.