Health care starved for IT dollars: Conference Board

A new report by the Conference Board of Canada suggests that Canada’s health-care system suffers from a gross lack of technology investment and collaboration on best practices.

While Canadian hospitals currently allocate about 1.5 per cent of budgets to technology, the report suggests that is dismal compared to other countries that spend an average of 4.4 per cent. The Conference Board report suggests Canadian health-care organizations ought to be spending an average of four per cent towards IT.

“The main message to leaders is they need to think about (IT investment), and make a more strategic allocation of resources based on their needs and their goals,” said Diana MacKay, director of education and health with the Conference Board of Canada.

The report by the Ottawa-based research organization is based on published literature and conversations with leaders in the health sector.

The report also identifies several barriers to technology adoption in the Canadian health-care sector, including a lack of co-operation among jurisdictions and organizations, privacy and security concerns, and the perception of financial risk and uncertain health outcomes.

“We are slipping behind in terms of our investments in technology (overall),” said MacKay. “And, the health-care sector is no exception to that.”

Alison Brooks, research director for the public sector group of Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd., pointed out that the degree of IT investment in health care differs significantly across Canada because of inconsistency in leadership support. The province of Alberta has had sustained periods of leadership support for IT in health care, said Brooks.

“They have had long periods, almost a dynasty, that has allowed them to have a leg up,” she said.

But as for the identified reasons for slow IT adoption in Canadian health care, Brooks thinks, in order of priority, is leadership, followed by co-operative leadership, then investment.

She disagrees that security and privacy are valid concerns entertained by health-care organizations. “I don’t think it’s a stumbling block as much as people might make it out to be,” said Brooks.

The report by the Conference Board of Canada also recommends health-care organizations follow a two-tier governance model that will facilitate sharing of successful case studies and helping others undergoing an implementation of IT systems.

MacKay explained that the upper tier would consist of senior leaders from government and health-care companies who discuss high level mechanisms and strategies to combating IT challenges. While the lower tier would take a “multi-sectoral approach” of IT pros, domain experts and business leaders who will take charge of managing and implementing specific projects.

“(It’s) a very collaborative experience of sharing expertise, considering different points of view, creating mechanisms to manage conflicts,” said MacKay.

Brooks thinks the public sector is getting better at recognizing the successes of others, of e-health initiatives in particular, and figuring out how to leverage that. But despite this, each province continues to dictate its own jurisdictional control over health management, added Brooks.

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