02/25/2014 01:45 EST | Updated 04/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Half of New Brunswick doctors targeted for electronic health records sign up

FREDERICTON - The New Brunswick Medical Society is less than halfway to its target of having 500 doctors enrolled in its electronic medical records system in its first year of operation, but its president says the organization is still pleased with the number.

Dr. Lynn Hansen says of the 950 physicians able to enrol in the program, 240 have done so and another 200 have expressed an interest in joining it.

"We knew when we set the target of 500 doctors, a third of the entire medical profession, we were ambitious," Hansen said Tuesday.

"We're quite happy with the number we have."

There are 1,627 physicians in the province but many work only in hospitals and don't need an electronic medical records system for an office, or they are specialists, such as psychiatrists, who have been excluded by the province's criteria.

The electronic medical records system is run by a subsidiary of the medical society called Velante. Doctors began using the system in November.

Anthony Knight, CEO of the medical society, said 17 per cent of doctors eligible to participate are near retirement and unlikely to switch to an electronic records system, while another 13 per cent have indicated they're not interested at all. Another 10 per cent had previously installed other software and say it would be too expensive to switch to the Intrahealth system developed for Velante, he said.

There are about 15 different software programs being used by doctors in the province. Knight said it would be financially impossible to develop a system that links all the systems together.

Hansen said doctors in the province have until the end of March to sign up and receive government funding to offset the costs.

Physicians each pay $8,000 and Canada Health Infoway provides matching funds. The Health Department also pays $4,000 per physician, which is matched by Canada Health Infoway, to integrate the medical society's software with the province's electronic health record.

Doctors can still enrol in the program after April 1, but it's expected they would have to pay the full $24,000.

Knight said the medical society is making a push to get more doctors enrolled before the deadline.

"We're putting on 60 demonstrations in the next 30 days to ensure that doctors who are on the fence will know what's best for their practice, either way, before the deadline passes," he said.

Dr. Scott Robertson, a family physician in Fredericton, already had software for his patients' records but has made the switch to the Valente system.

"I'm utterly convinced it's the way we should be going in the province," he said.

"It's worth the extra expense ... you need the access for patient safety."

Knight said the medical society is trying to persuade the province to provide funding to help doctors who have other kinds of software to make the switch to the new system.

In an email, Health Department spokeswoman Tracey Burkhardt said physicians can still access the province's electronic health record through the Internet if they don't have the electronic medical records system.