Richmond Campbell is spending less time going to see his family doctor in person — thanks to a new provincial online health service — the first of its kind in Canada.

MyHealthNS is an online tool that not only connects patients with their family doctors and other healthcare providers, but allows them to access routine test results such as lab tests, diagnostic imaging and specialist reports from the QEII Health Sciences Centre and other healthcare facilities. It also allows patients to create medical histories, ask questions, and book appointments with their doctor through a secure portal.

For Richmond, who has an auto-immune condition that requires him to get monthly blood tests, the service means he can easily check his test results online instead of traveling to see his doctor, saving both himself and his doctor time.

“I don’t want to spend an entire morning going to see my doctor for a routine test result that I could easily see online,” says the busy, 76-year-old retired Dalhousie University professor.

Family doctors, including those connected to the QEII, can set up the service so that test results are automatically released to a patient. They also have the ability to delay the release of results so they have a chance to review them first and decide whether they need to see the patient to discuss them.

After a three-year pilot project involving 35 family doctors and 6,000 patients, including Richmond, the online service was launched in July and is now being rolled out across the province.

Patients, whose doctors are participating in MyHealthNS, can now receive test results from the QEII, the IWK Health Centre, and other facilities in Halifax, Eastern Shore and West Hants through the online tool. The system will be expanded to include healthcare facilities in all other parts of the province by early 2017, says Chris Faulkner, project manager for MyHealthNS.

“Our hope is that every Nova Scotian will sign up to participate,” says Chris.

By the end of March 2017, he hopes to have 365 family doctors and 75,000 patients using the service. His goal is to have 80 per cent of the province’s family doctors participating within five years.

“For the system to work well, you want everyone to take part,” says Richmond.

There is no fee for patients to use the service and all Nova Scotians can sign up and start using the tool.

Patients create their own online health records on MyHealthNS. They can enter all their health information or that of their child’s, logging such things as blood sugar readings, blood pressure, weight, immunizations, allergies and medications. Once the record is created, patients view their information, or add to it, on any web-enabled device. Once a healthcare provider adds items like test results or specialist reports, patients will be able to access them.

“I’m very enthusiastic,” says Richmond about the service. “You have all your medical records with you on your smartphone.”

While some might worry about the security of using MyHealthNS, Chris says it is as secure as, and has met the same tests required for, the banking industry and its online services.

In the future, the service will also offer electronic referrals to specialists, like those at the QEII, so patients can track their referrals and know how long they have to wait for an appointment, says Chris.

Being the first in Canada to offer a province-wide digital health service, MyHealthNS is good news for all Nova Scotians, including those who feel they have to wait too long to see their family doctor, says Chris.

Family doctors who took part in the three-year pilot project reported being able to free up two appointment slots per day when using the online service, resulting in more appointments available for those who need to see their doctor in-person.

“We are leading the country,” says Chris, “which is kind of cool.”

For more information or to set up your account, visit MyHealthNS.ca.