PROVINCE OF ONTARIO UNVEILS YET ANOTHER ELECTRONIC HEALTH DATA PLAN
March 30th, 2009
If it doesn’t work the first (second or third) time---rebrand and start over. Taxpayers have short memories.
To this end, Ontario has unveiled another round; a $2.1 billion strategy that hopes to give every diabetic patient in the province an electronic health record by 2012. Apparently the original $650 million was required to ensure the "right people" are working on the initiative.
The "eHealth Ontario" initiative will also connect doctors, patients and pharmacists electronically to better manage the flow, safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs and cut wait times at Ontario hospitals, the head of the group developing the program says.
"There is a very clear line between investing in information and information technology in these three areas and seeing improvements from a patient perspective," says Sarah Kramer, president of eHealth Ontario.
The 53-page strategy aims to have 65 per cent of the province's primary physicians and two-thirds of their patients hooked up to the electronic medical data by April 2012. The eHealth agency was formed last September after a previous costly and controversial program failed to produce viable health record plans.
The original program, called Smart Systems, had been created in 2002, employed 300 people and wasted $650 million as part of its mandate to electronically link and support Ontario's 150,000 health-care providers. But a 2007 operational review found it was riddled with delays, lacked any accountability and its privacy policies were incomplete.
When the new, restructured and rebranded agency was formed, the province brought in Dr. Alan Hudson - head of Ontario's drive to shorten wait times in key areas. Hudson, who is chair of eHealth Ontario, quickly created a new board of directors filled with Bay Street notables.
Conservative health critic Elizabeth Witmer called Ontario's record on eHealth extremely poor. "(The government) has already invested half-a-billion dollars and we have seen NO results," she said. One might think there would be greater accountability. Or any!? In an attempt to prove, if you throw enough money at something it looks like progress, the new agency says its goal is to have enrolled 100 per cent of physicians and all of their patients by 2015. It also would like to see 65 per cent of medication orders filled electronically in three years with 35 per cent of physicians ordering drugs via secure, electronic prescriptions.
Key to the program, Kramer says, is the enrollment of as many as 800,000 diabetes patients in the province into the electronic record system. Currently, Kramer says, only half of diabetics receive the kind of basic, preventative checkups that can keep them out of hospital by catching common complications of the disease before they cause acute harm. The plan will implement a tracking system that will allow physicians and patients to follow care and alert them when any of those signal examinations are due or have been missed.Both physicians and patients will be able to access this information through the use of passwords.
On the pharmacy side, Kramer says the electronic triangle the strategy will form between patient, doctor and pharmacist will cut back significantly on the frequent mistakes that accompany prescription drug use.
Kramer says the strategy will cut wait times most significantly by keeping diabetics out of hospital. Once the infrastructure and training are in place, it will be easier to bring other diseases into the electronic system. The money, approved by the provincial cabinet in May 2008, will also fund such programs as Ontario Telemedicine Network, which provides over-the-phone medical advice to hundreds of people annually. Dennis Darby, head of the Ontario Pharmacists' Association, welcomed the new strategy. "It certainly will allow pharmacists to provide better patient care," he says.
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