Cancer advocacy group calls for e-health records for patients, more drug funding

By Anne-Marie Tobin (CP) – Mar 24, 2010

TORONTO — As Donna Hammill-Chalk undergoes treatment for breast cancer, she can log onto the website at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, type in a username and secure password, and gain access to her medical records.

In Prince Edward Island, her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, doesn’t have electronic records – but if they existed, it would be easier for her to share updates on her condition and treatment with her four grown children living in different parts of the world.

“Cancer – you lose all control and you can get some control back by having access to your information,” Hammill-Chalk said in an interview Wednesday from her home in Markham, Ont., where she is recovering from a mastectomy.

“I think in this day and age, patients need to take ownership and accountability for managing their own care. And you can’t do that if you don’t have the information.”

She tells her story in a report card on cancer, released by the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada. The report also calls for more funding for cancer drugs, bans everywhere on smoking in cars with kids and more genetic testing so treatments can be targeted to those who will benefit.

Dr. Pierre Major, chair of the report card committee, said the electronic records system at Sunnybrook, known at MyChart, is the only one he’s aware of that’s available to cancer patients in Canada.

Physicians there have told him they’re happy with it, he said.

“It’s great because patients look up in their chart what the results are, and it saves phone calls. The patients are happy because they can access their results or even change their appointments.”

It’s something that Marlene Nicholson, who lives in Bedford, N.S., can only wish for as she helps her mother navigate the health-care system. She’s Hammill-Chalk’s sister, and has made the three-hour drive to Lower Freetown, P.E.I., on numerous occasions in recent months to support their 69-year-old mom, Margaret Hammill, during her medical appointments.

With one sister in Ontario, another in Bahrain, and a brother in California, she has to relay a lot of information, Nicholson said.

“When the siblings are at a distance, yes, it would be great to be able to just say ‘OK, go here’ or ‘Mom has a password’ or whatever it takes, or if we could send a file … everybody can have access to it.”

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