E-Health has become crucial to the Ontario government’s healthcare transformation agenda, according to Ontario’s chief e-health strategist Scott Campbell.

“For the first time there’s a direct link between the two – they are hardwired,” Campbell told participants at the OHA HealthAchieve 2004 Conference in Toronto yesterday.

Campbell said these are “historic times” for healthcare IT with real opportunities for transforming healthcare, and making it more integrated, accessible and client focused.

“E-Health is a crucial component of that transformation.”

He said e-health is also essential for moving forward with key provincial projects, including family health teams, the new wait times strategy, local health integration networks, and public health renewal.

Ontario’s e-health strategy, Campbell said, focuses on Connectivity (between healthcare providers), Tools (used to achieve this connectivity), and Information (that flows through connected systems).

Driving it all, he said, is a vision of a system that supports timely access to services, patient care, and accountability.

“I like to say it’s all about helping Carson,” said Campbell, citing the example of an 8-year old from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, who experienced, firsthand, the dramatic benefits of e-health.

Carson’s health problems required him to commute frequently from his home in the Sault to Toronto Sick Kids Hospital. “Now thanks to e-health, he doesn’t have to travel to Toronto anymore. His needs are met at Sault Ste. Marie itself through telemedicine technologies.”

Campbell described key initiatives underway – in areas such as Communication, Access and Accountability that are helping the Carsons of this province get the healthcare they need.

On the Communications front, he said, 95 per cent of Ontario’s hospitals are already connected to the Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA) network. A messaging capability will be added to that connectivity, once SSHA rolls out secure e-mail in 18 months, he said.

Waiting List Registries, Campbell said, would speed up implementation of the new wait-times strategy, leading to better access to health care services.

The chief e-health strategist said developing better accountability and management systems is another priority. “Much hospital information coming to the ministry is a year or two out of date. It needs to be more timely, accurate and useful.”

All these key facets of the transformation program, Campbell said, are not being imposed from above. “There’s a groundswell from the bottom up that’s also pushing this agenda.”

He said the physician community and experts in various fields are actively seeking capabilities – such as common performance standards and secure e-mail – that make seamless access to e-health services a reality.

The notion of capital investments in e-health technologies, he said, has now taken root with Canada Health Infoway (CHI) managing investment capital totalling $1.2 billion. (An independent, not-for-profit corporation, CHI is a partnership of federal, provincial, and territorial governments that invests in the EHR products and related telehealth development).

The 2004 budget, Campbell pointed out, allocates funds specifically for e-health – the first time this has happened in Ontario’s history.

On the public health front, he said, the rollout of an integrated public health information system (iPHIS) will be completed by next summer.

The system can be used for surveillance, outbreak detection, identifying population, and planning immunization coverage, among other things.

He said work is also underway to develop a Client registry and on a strategy for the rollout of Electronic Health Records.

Among the new e-health strategy’s key accomplishments, Campbell cited the creation of an “independent third party review” of all provincial e-health initiatives, and regional consultations on the strategy.

Stakeholders, he said, are being asked what they like and dislike about the e-health strategy, what they would like to see in it that’s not already there, and about things they are doing successfully that can be rolled into the strategy.

“As all the solutions are not found in Queens Park, this consultation process really helps!”

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