Back in 2004, the B.C. government started to talk seriously about digitizing medical records, assembling them all in one database and putting that information online so it could be accessed by any doctor or health practitioner anywhere.
Here's the thing: the data already exists. The province has digital records of every prescription filled by a pharmacist, plus all doctor billings, hospital admissions and treatments since 1995. As well, the results of every blood test have been logged since 2002.
That information is likely incomplete for the simple fact that most of the doctors I visit still keep paper files and unless they have someone transcribing all that information into the computer at the end of the day then all the government really knows is that I visited a doctor on a particular date, and possibly a few rough details as to why. The province would also know if that visit resulted in a blood test, x-ray or prescription if they checked all the various databases.
The good news is that electronic medical records are coming soon; 2013 is the last year of a six-year plan to implement EMRs province-wide. There's always a chance they could be delayed another year or two, and it could be longer before every physician in the province participates, but it's finally happening — 20 years too late for some, but better late than never.
The other good news is that the province's eHealth strategy embraces using a Web 2.0 platform — web-based software — to coordinate information systems in the future, although there are no hard deadlines when this, or other eHealth innovations, will actually happen.
As for why this is all taking so long, the easy answer is "government," but in government's defence there were a lot of different technologies to evaluate, a lot of pieces of the puzzle to pull together, a lot of costs to consider and a wider privacy issue to address. Whatever system B.C. picked also had to be compatible with whatever systems other provinces and the federal government go with. The result is that health care is one of the last fields in the world to embrace the digital age, lagging behind almost every single profession in the world.
It's not that the health care industry doesn't use technology. When I get an x-ray at the Whistler Health Care Centre, that information is digitized immediately and reviewed by a radiologist in Vancouver. The surgeon who conducted my last sinus surgery used a tablet to keep his personal patient records and print our prescriptions — as do a few of our local GPs in Whistler. The problem all along was the fact that there were too many facets of health care to coordinate a simple switch to digital, and while I couldn't personally care less whether someone hacked my personal EMR, security is a huge issue for some.
If all goes well, we should all start seeing more technology everywhere soon. You may be asked to sign something indemnifying the province if your medical records are stolen, but that's a paper I'll gladly sign. Virtually all of my personal information is already on the web — financial records and information, baby photos, my entire body of work as a journalist, online purchases, websites visited and so on. The fact that I have asthma and once had an ultrasound on a testicle 16 years ago is small potatoes.
Halo passes the test, but...
The first reviews of Halo 4 — the first Halo game not produced by Bungie Studios after Microsoft moved the franchise to 343 Industries — are nothing short of glowing. The top reviews ranks it the high 90th percentile out of a possible 100, and a few outlets have given the first person shooter (FPS) a perfect score, which is no easy feat in a marketplace crowded with FPS titles, particularly FPS titles involving space marines, and the high expectations fans have coming in.
By all accounts it's the most graphically advanced game in the series with incredible set pieces, a high difficulty level, a wide variety of goals and missions, new bad guys to figure out and a story that will keep even the most trigger-happy players from skipping the cut scenes.
The multiplayer component, the highlight of any Halo game, has cranked it up another notch apparently, which is saying something; based on my own experiences with Halo 2, 3 and Reach, that would make it the greatest multiplayer game of all time.
And, if rumours are correct, Halo 4 could be coming to the PC in the near future, which will please millions of PC gamers out there. While that opens the game up to hackers, the best part of Halo is the multiplayer and anybody who steals the game is going to have to shell out eventually if they want to enjoy it.
The main problem with Halo 4 is competition: the release of a dozen other top tier titles like Assassins Creed III, Dishonered, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Hitman: Absolution, and more. Market saturation could weigh down heavier on the success of Halo 4 than fan expectations.