A private telecommunications company is making a big jump into the business of electronic health records.

Telus is launching the first national program that would allow doctors and patients to share medical records in a web-based world.

The Telus Health Space Project is supported by the Canadian Diabetes Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Telus says the secure system allows patients to post their own medical history, as well as simple test results, such as those recorded from blood pressure tests that can be done at home. Doctors can then access the information from their offices.

Privacy concerns

Although the Canadian Diabetes Association supports the project, it says privacy remains a top concern for patients. If people aren't convinced their information won't find its way into unwanted hands, patients might shy away.

"They have to guarantee your privacy of your health records or people just won't use it," said Jacquelyn Wright, a spokesperson for the diabetes association.

Two-way exchange

A lead researcher on electronic health records, who works at the University of Ottawa and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, says electronic records work best when doctors and patients are both involved in gathering and recording information.

"It works better if the doctors are involved, if it is a two-exchange of information between doctor and patient – that is what will make this a success," said Dr. Khaled El Eman.

Although other systems of electronic health records have been used at hospitals across Canada and the United States, El Eman says the Telus project is the first national plan for Canada.

Patient involvement

He says the program can be especially useful for those with chronic medical conditions, noting that those patients are usually more motivated to become involved.

Wright agrees that patient involvement is important: "Putting them in the middle of it and being part of the process, that is what is going to give them a real sense of control," she said.

Telus' system won't be up and running until later this year.

In two weeks, CHEO will move forward with a hospital-wide electronic health records system to track patients. The hospital has declined to discuss the project until it is up and running.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Paul Brent