UHN Patient Partners play vital role in safe and effective transition to Epic system

UHN Patient Partners Jack Ireland and Lilac Chow have been helping with the planning of the Synapse project since the summer of 2020. (Photo: UHN)

It’s important to remember why University Health Network (UHN) has made implementing a new health information system (HIS) from Epic on June 4 a priority: enhanced patient safety and improved clinical experiences for patients and staff.

“Epic brings clinicians, physicians, nurses and patients together on one common platform,” says Jack Ireland, a stroke and cancer survivor, and one of dozens of UHN Patient Partners to join the team since the summer of 2020 to help implement the new system, which is code-named Synapse to symbolize the interconnections it will create and promote.

“There’s going to be some real user benefits for patients.”

At present, UHN has dozens of systems for storing clinical and administrative information such as billing and bed planning. Many of these systems do not “talk” to each other. That means care and support teams often need to spend time finding the information they need, and “translate” the data or information for another purpose. In addition to taking time, it also leaves room for error.

With the switch to Epic, UHN will make a giant leap forward toward a single source of truth for every patient journey. Communication will be more efficient, and information will be shared more accurately.

‘Validation of the fact that UHN believes in the value of patient experience’

“Epic is truly co-designed with patient partners,” says UHN transplant patient Lilac Chow, another UHN Patient Partner who’s been involved with Synapse from the beginning.

“From the very start, working on the project, we were asked our opinions and how the system can be more patient centered,” Lilac says. “This is pure patient experience being asked for.

“It’s not just tokenism, it’s validation of the fact that UHN believes in the value of patient experience. It’s pretty innovative.”

Thanks to UHN Patient Experience Senior Director Laura Williams and her team, a total of 80 UHN Patient Partners will have been involved in the implementation of Epic. They offer input and guidance on how the system can be configured to best engage patients and essential care partners, as well as cater to the needs of individual patients.

“The participation of our UHN Patient Partners was a must-have from the outset,” Laura says. “They have been able to flag issues such as safety concerns and potential documentation errors.

“In this way, they are partners in the journey toward enhanced safety and improved care, and they’ve all been highly invested in doing so.”

Laura adds that the UHN Patient Partners “have been highly-active members on decision-making and implementation committees, and the Digital Patient Experience Consultant Group has guided the patient experience processes.

“They have helped us define the benefits of Epic, have identified the need for digital health literacy supports and reminded us to embed compassionate care as a principle alongside a digital care experience.”

UHN's Laura Williams smiles while wearing a green knitted sweater against the side of a grey plastic structure.
Thanks to UHN Patient Experience Senior Director Laura Williams and her team, a total of 80 UHN Patient Partners will have been involved in the implementation of Epic. (Courtesy Laura Williams)

For Jack, a big selling point of Epic is no longer having to tell his patient history to every health care worker he meets.

“As it stands now, when I see a doctor I have to tell my story again and again and again, plus, I carry around a big binder of my records,” Jack says. “With the switch to Epic, the system will have my complete story, my complete medical history in a much more robust manner, so there’s some real benefits to the patient.

“No more carrying my binder!”

The patient view of Epic will be through the new version of myUHN Patient Portal, which will be available when the system goes live on June 4.

The new myUHN uses the Epic MyChart app to allow for greater personalization and functionality.

“It’s things like how many times do people want alerts for upcoming appointments, or when diagnostic results come in?” Lilac says of the practical information patients can set up. “That’s something that patients will appreciate and will make their experience a good one.”

Supporting safer care through a single source of truth platform

Through myUHN, patients will be able to send secure, email-like messages to their health care team for non-urgent issues, to self-schedule appointments in some areas, or update their health records with changes to medications, demographic details and more.

Patients will also be to view most care team notes and continue to have access to lab and diagnostic reports in real-time.

Through myUHN, patients can also receive educational materials and confirm interest to participate in research trials.

“Overall, Epic will support safer care through a single source of truth platform, and promote safer, enhanced care and outcomes,” Laura says. “Many UHN patients visit multiple sites and multiple care teams, so being able to see this entire journey supports providers in making health care recommendations that are informed by this broader information.

“This is a significant clinical and patient experience transformation and while change is hard I’m so grateful to work at UHN where our team members go above and beyond every day to do the hard work of providing the best care possible.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Lilac.

“For a world class hospital, it’s almost expected that we are ahead of the game, and it totally goes into the whole notion of patient innovation,” she says. “I’m excited by the fact that I’m able to see all my health records, I will have access to everything that I need to know about what’s going on within my body and not having to wait.

“Patients will love this system because it is about them.”

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