CPCSSN and Canada’s National Health Data Platform

CPCSSN is participating in the RAPID-HC proposal for Canada’s National Data Platform. The inclusion of primary care data is essential to establishing the relevance and usefulness of the Platform. The ability of CPCSSN to derive data at scale from so many sources, locations and in differing formats, and to harmonize them into a consistent format is key to establishing RAPID-HC as a viable, inclusive, extensive, secure and productive facility, with the capacity and competence to merge the data from different health system sectors into a composite set and to distribute it for research.

CPCSSN collaborates with major EMR vendors

CPCSSN is actively collaborating with major vendors, including TELUS and QHR, on the next generation of high performance interface, though which will flow EMR data from local and ASP installations of EMR products including Accuro, Med Access, Medesync, Nightingale, Practice Solutions, and Wolf. The source EMR data is initially collected into regional & national primary care health data repositories where it is further processed to improve overall data consistency and quality. The national repository provides a valuable platform for academic, government & industry researchers to perform various studies & analysis which will help improve the health of Canadians.

This new interface will enable regular, automated and more timely (eventually approaching near real time) flow of data to organizations like CPCSSN, thus opening up new opportunities for the use of primary care data


CPCSSN Prospectus January 2015 just released

As CPCSSN zeros in on the end of it’s Phase III operations it has released it’s first PROSPECTUS.   The PROSPECTUS has been developed to focus on making a difference where health matters and move forward in  three (3) major research arenas:  sentinel EMR surveillance, research and knowledge development, and practice transformation.   To download or  open a pdf copy of the document click here  CPCSSN_ProspectusVersion_Jan14-2015

CPCSSN – A Greater Purpose

The Health Council of Canada closed its doors on the 31st March of this year.  I wonder what, if any, difference the termination of the Council will make for health care reform?

The Council was a national, independent, public reporting agency established in 2003 to monitor policy and program commitments related to the First Ministers’ Accord on Health Care Renewal.  It gathered and shared information on health care innovation across the country – the practices, policies, programs and services that are improving health outcomes and the way health care is delivered.  I used its reports and Health Innovation Portal for some of my own work over the years.  And I guess it fair to say that  some aspects of its work supports the strategic direction of CPCSSN.

For example, in November 2012 one of the Council’s senior policy analysts wrote, “Government-led initiatives are promoting changes like greater use of electronic medical records (EMRs), inter-professional team-based care, and innovations in practice management to help primary care physicians see more patients, more effectively.”

CPCSSN has been working with sentinel physicians and other stakeholders across the country to help support such change.  Our sentinel feedback tool is designed to provide the information practitioners need to better affect the health of their patient population.  A January 2013 news release on the Council’s website announces that the use of information technology means better communication with patients and improved safety, quality and coordinated care.  I was somewhat relieved to see a more patient-centered proclamation, an appreciation of the patient experience.

My eyes fell upon a familiar bit of information; “57% [of Canadians] have at least one chronic condition and 31% have two or more.”  The conditions of this study included arthritis, asthma, and other lung diseases, cancer, mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.”  (2013 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of the General Public published in the Health Council’s January 2014, Bulletin 8.)  CPCSSN developed and rigorously validated case definitions for eight chronic diseases for surveillance activities and primary care and public health research.

And while there is much work to do in chronic disease prevention, management and intervention practice, I believe this translates to be much more than learning about the prevalence of chronic disease.  It is about improving overall health outcomes for individuals and communities through evidence-based best practices.  How best to do this using electronic medical record-based data?

My considerations lead me to the Conference of Deputy Ministers of Health’s vision for the secondary use of health data; “ … health system use of electronic health data that will both protect the privacy and confidentiality of patients and serve Canadians and Canada’s health care system well into the future.”  (Better Information for Improved Health: A Vision for Health System Use of Data in Canada, June 2013)

This all strikes a chord for me.  I can easily see the role of CPCSSN is comprised of innovators in the capture and use of electronic health data.  We have created a surveillance system, an information technology platform using new sources of health care data.  We have an award-winning privacy and information security system.

As a national network of sentinel surveillance and research collaborators and coordinators, CPCSSN is placed to serve a greater purpose.  I am convinced that our work can influence primary care and public health downstream at the practitioner and best practices level, and upstream at the policy and program levels with research and knowledge development.  We are creating intelligence from primary care data.  We are the bridge between health research, policy and primary care practice.  We are becoming a part of the system for change.  CPCSSN is part of the solution.

October 2014

Richard Birwhistle 280x280

Dr. Richard Birtwhistle

Creating Strategic Change in Health Care?

It seems like we have been trying to improve our health care system forever. We know there are problems: access, wait times and the ‘grey tsunami’ to name a few. We also know that in Canada health care is consuming over 40% of provincial budgets and increasing. We have an expensive and under performing system.

I recently attended the 2nd of 3 annual conferences hosted by the Monieson Centre of Queen’s University School of Business.  The invited speakers came from a variety of backgrounds and from Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Australia. This conference is focused on ‘Creating Strategic Change in Health Care’.  The 3 questions posed by the Conference organizers were:

  1. What form could a Canadian healthcare strategy take?
  2. How could provinces and territories come together to achieve a uniquely Canadian strategy model around four key issues: health human resources, integrated care, electronic health records and pharmacare?
  3. What is a viable process for change?

I sat on a panel discussing the electronic health record. It became clear that like so many other sectors trying to develop a coherent policy that could be adopted by all the health care sectors was very unclear. Politics and competition were things that often got in the way. What we heard repeatedly was that we cannot wait for politicians to solve these important health care issues for us. The system must rely on some ‘bottom up’ evolution of workable ideas that will improve health care in Canada.

CPCSSN is one of these ideas. In order to drive change in primary care, physicians have to see themselves differently. We can no longer be ‘free agents’ when it comes to care provision and dismiss our responsibilities for the population for which we serve. CPCSSN provides the power of information to primary care practitioners about their practice population, their peers and an opportunity to consider their role in improving healthcare in the community.

Health care system change is a big chunk to bite off all at once but if each one of us figure out how we might do it better in our context and our local community, good things can happen.

August 2014

Validating 8 CPCSSN Case Definitions for Chronic Disease Surveillance published in Annals of Family Medicine

CPCSSN data are appropriate for use in public health surveillance, primary care, and health services research, as well as to inform policy for these diseases. The full details on CPCSSN case validation work can be found at

– The full reference for this CPCSSN published has been added to the ENDNOTE cloud part of the CPCSSN website also at

Williamson T, Birtwhistle R, Khan S, Garies S, Wong S, Natarajan N, et al. Validating the 8 CPCSSN Case Definitions for Chronic Disease Surveillance in a Primary Care Database of Electronic      Health Records. Annals of Family Medicine. 2014 July 14;12(4) July/August):367-72.Methodology. Epub July 14, 2014. English.

– Check out the CPCSSN case definitions list at

Prevalence and Epidemiology of Diabetes in Canadian Primary Care Practices: A Report from the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network


Published online today; this study describes care patterns for 25,000 people with diabetes:  Vancouver style reference to this “in press” citation  for your reference:

Greiver M, Williamson T, Barber D, Birtwhistle R, Aliarzadeh B, Khan S, Morkem R, Halas G, Harris S, Katz A.  Prevalence and Epidemiology of Diabetes in Canadian Primary Care Practices: A Report from the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network.  Canadian Journal of Diabetes 16 May 2014 (in-press 10.1016/j.jcjd.2014.02.030)

Improving Primary Care One Byte at a Time



I was recently asked to give a short presentation about CPCSSN.  This is not an unusual request, a        number of us within CPCSSN give talks, present posters, conduct technical workshops, even webinars.

So what makes this request unique?

It is to be 12 minutes and my audience is the general public.  This means no research, technical or  medical jargon, and no acronyms.  You can be sure however, I will make an exception when referring  to CPCSSN.  Saying “Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network” takes 5 seconds,  “CPCSSN” less than 1!


I need to fit a complex topic into as few words as possible.  Capturing years of work and investment in a short time slot is not without its challenges and on top of that I had to grab their attention and keep it.

In pursuit of finding an angle I find myself revisiting CPCSSN’s roots, its beginnings.

Eight years ago a group of 30, most of us family medicine researchers, gathered at a workshop in Kingston.  The goal was to evolve the concept of establishing a national network of primary care practice-based research networks or PC PBRNs. [An acronym!] Together we would support each others’ work and the work of other primary care and public health researchers.

This national network would have the capacity to respond to information needs about the provision of primary care across Canada.  It would be positioned to assist health care practitioners.

We envisioned the coordination of primary care research groups to answer questions that require large sample sizes or assessment of regional variation.  We pictured a data system to support this, a system for disease surveillance and health care practice improvement.

We believed in the possibility of influencing the prevention and management of chronic disease for populations across the country.  We wanted to influence the optimization of primary care across the service delivery spectrum.  We wanted to make a difference for the overall health of Canadians.

A small team of us worked to find funding for our initiative.  In 2008, we received a grant for a two-year feasibility study to test our ideas, our vision.  We became known as CPCSSN.  The feasibility study’s success lead to a 5-year, multi-million dollar project that has supported the creation of an award-winning infrastructure.  Four years later we have defined and are building our niche, our value and our capacity.  We are attracting international attention along the way!

Today CPCSSN is a national network of primary care and public health researchers, health care providers, and talented staff working together to make a difference in health care practice and policy through surveillance and research.  CPCSSN is an innovator, creating a surveillance system with a new source of data.  We are generating knowledge for improved health care for patients at the practice level and for policy makers at the system level.

In a nutshell, we use information technology and a privacy architecture to extract, transform and translate patient health data from the electronic medical records of practitioners who are dotted across the country.  These care providers make up CPCSSN’s most valued sentinel surveillance network.

CPCSSN is scrupulously careful with the data.  We protect the confidential information provided by individuals to their physician in the context of care.  It is de-identified and housed in a secure, central location.  It is analyzed for information about chronic diseases, their prevention or delay, and management.  The data is also used to create reports that go back to the participating sentinel physicians.  The feedback reports serve as a practice improvement tool.

I can say that we have built a strong foundation.  Our vision is becoming a reality.  We have accomplished much but have only scratched the surface of possibilities.

May 2014

Subscribe for Latest News and Updates

© CPCSSN 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Designed & Developed by OAK Computing
Back to top

Submit your Feedback