Government needs to be stronger advocate for health IT, say experts

When it comes to the areas in which the government needs to improve health care services and related technologies, Christopher Mazza did not mince words.

“Our plans and approach for major disasters is wrong,” said Mazza in addressing attendees at the Canada Critical Care Forum at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre yesterday.

Mazza, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, said that SARS in Toronto was a perfect example of this incorrect planning, as it was an incident that was a major catalyst for change in the Canadian health care field.

“When SARS hit, we had all kinds of plans – none of them worked,” said Mazza. “It took the city to its knees and broke its back.”

He stressed that one of the major factors in this was a lack of collaboration, preparedness and common language among hospitals and government.

Charles Salameh, vice-president of Nortel Business Solutions, conceded that a lot of work has to be done with respect to driving political pressure in order to have the necessary technology needed for health care delivery.

“Given the technology and industry convergence, the government sector needs to be a very strong advocate,” said Salameh. “I’d like to see a lot more collaboration, and a lot more joint innovation between public sector’s desires to improve patient outcomes, improve productivity and increase the efficiency of our health care system.”

Salameh said this is especially important given the current challenges of our aging society. He added that government needs to be much more aggressive in leading and driving the IT industry, in order to use today’s technologies to shape the future direction of research and development in Canada.

“Today a lot of what we’re seeing is being guided by profits and by shareholder interests,” said Salameh. “The challenges I have as a private sector leader is balancing moral judgments around where to guide the company, and what to focus in on with the needs of our shareholders.”

He added that he sees the real opportunity that technology presents, “and the only person that can hear me between the shareholders, the corporation who takes the action and has the knowledge to do this (research and development), is government.”

“Government needs to be much more influential in driving the patterns of R&D investments, particularly with what we have here in Canada which is a leadership position.”

The lack of government collaboration is not just seen in the health care field, according to Salameh.

“As the lead individual who ran Secure Channel (during Salameh’s previous role with Bell Canada), the Treasury Board CIO approached us as a very strong advocate of connecting the constituents of Canada to the 27 ministries within the government,” he said.

The Treasury Board’s challenge, he said, was convincing the other departments to use that same infrastructure.

“Because each department wanted to do their own thing, it became this problem where Treasury Board had invested all this money but no one was using it because every department has their own CIO, and was making their own decisions; there’s got to be a coming together,” Salameh said.

He stressed the need for government to also come together to address social issues like health care education, an area in which Salameh said government is lagging.

“If they could get much more aligned towards the common problems that bind Canada as a nation, and push that agenda towards the IT industry and understand what they need, which is shareholder wealth, and create economic value for the people who invest in those companies, if they could bridge that gap, this whole country could make a huge step forward,” he said.

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