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Tucked away, three levels below the main floor at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, is UHN's Health Records Department.
While it is out of sight to many people, the work done there is critical to supporting patient care. The department has just said goodbye to one of its longest serving employees Verna Wilson, who stepped into retirement at the end of March, after a 48-year career at the Princess Margaret.
"I immigrated to Canada from Jamaica. With just my high school diploma from back home, I applied for a job in Health Records at Toronto General Hospital and I got it," says Verna, a Health Records Clerk. "I've been in health records ever since, upgrading with different courses as I've gone along."
Verna began her career at Toronto General Hospital in the 1960s and moved to the Princess Margaret on August 10, 1970.
"They were separate hospitals at the time and I've been here through the various integrations," Verna says. "I find it funny to think that really I'm ending my career where I started."
Health Records staff, like Verna, are the curators of patient information, ensuring it is available when needed to support patient care.
In a big and busy place like UHN, this means managing the health records of four hospitals with more than one million out-patients and 35,000 in-patients each year.
A health record is a confidential compilation of pertinent facts of an individual's health history, including all past and present medical conditions, illnesses and treatments, with emphasis on the specific events affecting the patient during the current episode of care.
The information documented in the health record is created by all healthcare professionals providing care and is used for continuity of care.
"I have worn many hats over the years. I do reports, I help out at the front desk when patients walk in looking for certain information – and I'm a pro at the old paper charts," she says with a laugh.
Through the years Verna has been a witness to how technology has changed the way health records are managed.
"There have been many changes over the years but probably the most significant was when we moved to having an electronic patient record," she says. "I remember doctors going to see patients in communities in areas like Sudbury and Timmins, and they would be lugging around a suitcase of paper charts to the airport."
"We haven't gone completely paperless, but in a technology age, the information is much more instantaneous. We've come a long way."
Verna also adds that evolving technology and the Internet have made patients much more knowledgeable about their health information than in the past.
'I love my job'
Having worked in the Health Records department for so many years, Verna says she continues to be excited about her job.
"I enjoy what I do – I love my job. Whatever the changes I always seemed to fit in and contribute," she says. "I'm always enthused to come to work – there's always that zeal.
"Cancer is a dreaded name and I hope what I do can have even a small impact on the care we provide our patients."
While she continued to have a passion for her work until her final days on the job, Verna is excited to begin the next chapter in retirement.
"I've been married to my husband for nearly 50 years and he is already retired, so I'm looking forward to taking a trip to the Caribbean with him and enjoying some sun, sea and sand," she says.