VICTORIA–The goal of a fully-integrated patient information network for health professionals is a little closer in B.C. Starting this month, some 100 doctors will test the benefits of having online access to patients’ drug profiles.

B.C. is launching the pilot project to offer medical practices access to Pharmanet, the secure computer network that has linked all 700 community pharmacies in the province since 1995. The project, which is expected to run for six or nine months, is the Ministry of Health’s next step in expanding its Healthnet system, of which Pharmanet is a key component.

The network, which has been mandatory in all community pharmacies in the province for four years, is now available in hospital emergency rooms (ERs). A pilot project with approximately a dozen acute-care hospitals in 1998 paved the way for universal access in hospital ERs as of spring 1999. “The physicians we talked to at the hospitals said that having access to Pharmanet was extremely helpful,” says ministry spokesperson David Clements. “We heard a lot of that from the doctors.”

“The new Healthnet system promises to be the most valuable tool of its type in the country,” says Bob Kucheran, executive director of the B.C. Pharmacy Association. But, referring to the clinical and administrative problems that have plagued Pharmanet, he cautions that, “if the interests of pharmacists and the medical practitioners who have access to the system are not given priority over technical and systemic interests, it could very well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Doctors in the pilot project will have the same information that is now available to community pharmacists and hospital ERs. Clements does not believe that giving physicians access to the network will change anything for pharmacists.

Medical practices for the pilot project have been selected on the basis of several criteria, including size, location, and patient demographics. The ministry will evaluate results before deciding whether or not to offer Pharmanet access to all medical practices in B.C.