Doctor Ajantha Jayabarathan says that when the MyHealthNS digital program started back in 2012, she felt like the province was ahead of its time.
"Patients were really starting to show an interest, and we saw that the industry was starting to develop a lot of different devices and apps," she tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.
The family doctor and Director of Coral Shared-Care Health Center in Halifax says that over 300 doctors and 30,000 patients joined the MyHealthNS app over the years.
"The Nova Scotia department of health and wellness and their IT people thought okay, let's get a little ahead of this so that we can very securely and confidently give people access to this information. So that's where the pilot project came from," she says.
Jayabarathan, known to her patients as "Dr. AJ," says the app allowed patients to communicate with their doctors without making an appointment to see them in office.
"They could book appointments online, they could communicate with their doctor back and forth," she explains. "And most importantly we were able to send them their lab tests as well as their diagnostic imaging, and eventually things like operative reports, discharge summaries, specialist reports."
Dr. AJ says the app enabled doctors to use their time more efficiently when patients don't need an in-person appointment.
"The doctors showed that they were 20 to 22 per cent more available because they could connect with people online and people who didn't need to be seen in the office didn't need to come in," she adds.
But as of March 31, the program will no longer be available.
"I would say it's a blow, and it's a huge step backwards," says Dr. AJ.
The provincial government made the decision in August 2019, and McKesson Canada, the company that owns the software, is giving patients six months to get all their medical information from the app.
"The deadline that is coming up the end of March. If my patients don't get their health information out of it, it's going to be purged," says Dr. AJ.
The government has said that not enough patients and doctors were using the app to make it worthwhile, but Dr. AJ thinks there were issues that played a part in this.
"The doctors of the province, once we knew how valuable this was, in our contract prior to the most recent one we asked that they would just put a cap on it, audit us, but please pay us to provide virtual care," she says.
But although the government agreed to pay for health services provided over the phone, the 300 doctors who used it were never compensated for using MyHealthNS.
"Unfortunately it really slowed down the uptake," adds Dr. AJ.
Dr. AJ says the shut-down was expected to be followed by an interim solution, but the government has now announced it won't create a new app for patients.
Instead, health care providers are working with two new types of electronic medical records (EMR) software: Med Access by Telus and Accuro by QHR.
"Each of them has an ability much like MyHealthNS. One of them you can do video contacts, another one of them you can actually connect with each other," says Dr. AJ.
The family physician says she's puzzled by the changeover to new systems that seem to resemble the one being phased out.
Without MyHealthNS, Dr. AJ says some patients will be orphaned to the system, with no family doctor. She hopes the government comes up with a program to oversee the changeover to new EMR software.
"We need to quickly develop an 811+ system so that we can reach out to the orphaned patients on the wait list. And what you could do is the 811MD, or 811 doctor if you created that, could be using these new EMRs and connecting with all of those orphaned patients," she says.
"So in a way it's a win-win-win. We already have this in place and doctors like me and specialists for the first time would have the ability to now evolve and develop this."