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Dr. Godfrey talks patient care in the modern age of medicine

November 30, 2017

One of the oldest practicing physicians in North America recognizes the life-saving potential of digital health technology.

It’s a little after 10 a.m. on a Tuesday and Dr. Charles Godfrey is running a few minutes behind schedule at the Albany Medical Clinic in Toronto. He’s just spent 45 minutes with a woman whose recovery needed more of his attention than he had anticipated.

This is by no means a complaint. Quite the opposite. Dr. Godfrey, who celebrated his 100th birthday in September in the company of former Ontario Premier Bob Rae and diplomat Stephen Lewis, relishes every moment he spends with each of his patients. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dr. Godfrey is, by his own definition, proudly an old-fashioned doctor. That means a patient is a human being first and foremost — the disease or complaint is secondary.

“I am interested in people,” he says of his enduring patient-care philosophy. “That is my fascination. I just love working with people.”

Dr. Godfrey is one of the oldest practicing physicians in North America, but few are likely to be as busy. A graduate of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, class of ‘53, and later studying neurology at Oxford University, he continues to work four days a week at four different medical clinics, including the Albany clinic, where he serves as a rehabilitation consultant.

“I have a delicious desire to go back to the 1950s and be able to write down a patient’s history by hand, because in those days you did that,” he says, reflecting on a career that has now spanned nearly 65 years and taken him to more than 40 countries around the world.

But the doctor is also decidedly modern in his approach to 21st century medicine, in particular the time and life-saving potential of technology now available to physicians.

Most people think of MRI machines and CAT scanners when it comes to medical equipment, but some of the most powerful transformations in Canadian medicine are happening before a patient even sees the doctor. The Albany clinic for instance, which has been in continuous operation in east Toronto since 1946, with a staff of 35 family doctors and 44 specialists, has partnered with TELUS Health to adopt electronic medical records (EMR).

EMRs allow physicians to secure digital access to patient information over their laptop, tablet or smartphone. Critically, new EMR features such as those offered by MedDialog give doctors the ability to bypass poor communication tools such as fax machines and securely pass medical records to other physicians.

For patients, the impact of this technology is immediate, reducing long wait times to see a specialist and closing gaps in continuity of care when consulting with other healthcare providers or even delays in clarity on how to treat relatively minor ailments. In addition, improved communications between family doctors and specialists can reduce patient referrals by as much as 40 per cent, according to Canadian health researchers.

That difference can be critical in senior care, in particular, considering the average elderly patient sees seven physicians across four different clinical settings over a year. And physicians caring for patients interact with as many as 229 other physicians at 117 different practices each year.

In the past 12 months, the Albany clinic has worked with TELUS to complete a digital transformation to further improve clinic operations and patient care, including internal and external referrals, improved communication with hospitals for patient tests, and replacing outdated systems with EMR-compatible technology. The clinic is now preparing to do more work over the coming year to further improve the patient experience, including an online appointment booking and self-check-in system.

Dr. Godfrey’s own tech go-to list recently expanded to include a smartphone. He was inspired to improvise on his usual communications style when a patient who only spoke Russian arrived in his office. The woman quickly turned to an online translation app for help in getting her message across.

“I spoke in English and the phone spoke back to her in Russian. So she told it what her problem was and then that was transmitted to me in English.

“That’s why I like medicine,” he says of the exchange. “That was fascinating.”


This story was translated from the original version that was first published in the Financial Post on November 13, 2017 during Digital Health Week.