Dr. Ewan Affleck, a general practitioner in Yellowknife, laughs when he talks about his recent appointment to the Order of Canada.
It’s not a laugh of disrespect; it’s just “ironic,” he said.
Affleck, who is convinced he has an aversion to technology, received the prestigious civilian honour for his pioneer work on the NWT’s electronic medical records system.
Affleck told The Journal that the inspiration behind the electronic system was born out of necessity rather than a knack or even an interest in computers.
“I’m really bad at working with computers,” he shared. “My interests were more in literature and music, but the lesson in life is that you follow your passions. There are cool things that happen every day and if you follow it, sometimes it can lead you to a better place. So that’s sort of my story.”
When the doctor and his family arrived in Yellowknife 12 years ago, he began running a weekly medical clinic at the women’s shelter.
Because the paper charts of medical treatment records could not be kept at the shelter, every week Affleck would haul an old airline trolley full of charts down Franklin Ave. to and from his office.
“I was the highest paid filing clerk in the Northwest Territories,” he joked.
Eventually he got more boxes and needed a bigger trolley.
“I said, ‘This is crazy; I need to get electronic charts.’ That’s where it all started.”
Affleck threw himself into work with the GNWT to create a territorial Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system, which would link all medical agencies in the territory, no matter how far away, to give them access to a patient’s file.
“Whether you are in Fort Smith or Ulukhaktok or wherever and you have kidney failure, you can have your nephrologist in Edmonton following your results and your blood pressure. You can have the intern in Yellowknife and the GP in Fort Smith,” Affleck explained. “They can then work together to ensure your care is good and it’s not dependent on shipping you around.”
Today, Affleck continues to work on the EMR system with his counterparts in the GNWT to collect records from all territorial residents. He said the NWT is the ideal place to create a unified system for a plethora of reasons.
“We are in a better position to have everyone agree to work together. There are structural differences here compared to the provinces and even other territories that allow us to collaborate more,” he said.
“The North is a special place and I think it affords us opportunities to be creative with ideas,” Affleck continued. “If you have an idea here, certainly I’ve been able to have a creative outlet, and that’s probably the biggest gift.”
The doctor learned about his appointment to the Order of Canada late last year and will be attending a ceremony in Ottawa to accept his award sometime in 2014.
“It’s sort of intense,” Affleck said. “I feel pretty great about it.”