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Dave Fuller, CMO at Telus. Telus is ramping up its presence in health care with a deal to acquire Ontario’s largest provider of electronic medical records.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Telus Corp. is ramping up its presence in health care with a deal to acquire Ontario's largest provider of electronic medical records.

The Vancouver-based telecom company is expected to announce Tuesday an offer to buy PS Suite EMR, the electronic medical record business run by MD Practice Software LP – a subsidiary of the Canadian Medical Association.

Although financial terms were being kept private, this transaction will position Telus as Canada's largest EMR player once it closes next month. The telco has spent more than a decade creating a footprint in health care. Over the past five years alone, it has spent in excess of $1-billion in the sector, including its previous acquisitions of Wolf Medical Systems in western Canada and KinLogix in Quebec.

Electronic medical records are fast becoming the preferred method to store and share patient information among health-care providers, including doctors, pharmacists and lab technicians. Moreover, ballooning health-care costs (already more than $200-billion across Canada) coupled with an aging population have governments increasingly focused on rooting out inefficiencies.

For Telus, electronic medical records represent an opportunity to optimize the system, improve patient care and drive increased data traffic over both its wireline and wireless broadband networks as medical records are shared and patients interact with doctors over Internet portals.

"We're hitting a bit of a perfect storm when you look at it from a health-care perspective," said Paul Lepage, president of Telus EMR. "The cost of health care in all provinces, including Ontario, is getting to be about 50 per cent of any of the provincial budgets. It is a huge, huge cost."

Telus's strategy is to provide health-care applications and the corresponding communications infrastructure, including secure data centres. Beyond transitioning from paper-based files to EMRs, doctors are adopting a growing range of e-health technologies including the use of smartphones and tablets to monitor patients.

EMRs can boost efficiencies for physicians, typically allowing them to see an additional three to five patients per day, which can translate into added revenue of as much as $30,000 to $40,000 per year, acccording to Telus.

There is ample room for growth given that Canadian doctors lag their international peers in the use of electronic medical records.

Roughly 56 per cent of Canadian doctors used EMRs in 2012, compared to an adoption rate of 98 per cent in both the Netherlands and Norway and 97 per cent in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, according to 2012 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey.

A separate study by Accenture predicted the North American EMR market would be worth $9.8-billion in 2013 after logging a 9.7-per-cent compound annual growth rate starting in 2010. The bulk of growth, however, will occur in the United States. As for Canada, the report said "insufficient government funding and poor financial performance of hospitals has slowed adoption" of electronic medical records, but added adoption is expected to "rise steadily."

For its part, Telus estimates the EMR market in Canada has the potential to be worth between $150-million to $250-million if all physicians transition to EMRs. Part of the problem to date is that provinces have used different timetables to offer physicians various incentives to adopt the technology. "For example, in Quebec, the subsidies to physicians to adopt EMRs only started in November last year," Mr. Lepage said.

Other telecom providers are also providing increasing connectivity to health care providers. Rogers Communications Inc., for instance, was among a group of companies that partnered with Women's College Hospital in Toronto to create a mobile app that patients use to keep doctors updated after orthopedic or breast reconstruction surgery.

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