SSHA marks its past by looking forward

Ontario’s Smart System for Health Agency marked its five-year anniversary this week by laying out its blueprint for the future. The strategic plan, among other things, presents strategies aimed at fostering the growth of electronic communication between practitioners, enabling increased use of electronic patient health records, and helping to avert any future pandemic outbreaks.

Among the primary objectives is deploying SSHA’s ONE Network by working with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Local Health Integration Networks and providers. ONE Network is the foundation for a suite of SSHA products and services that enable health care providers to electronically share patient information. It is currently in place at more than 5,000 locations.

According to SSHA CEO William Albino, the organization is deploying algorithmic formulas to build a Unique Patient Identifier to ensure that a patient identified in the system is in fact the person in question. It uses a multi-factor system to make sure that each John Smith, for instance, is identified correctly.

Other key objectives going forward include introducing the provincial Health Information Access Layer (HIAL), which will be a foundational architecture component for the secure and private exchange of personal health data between health care providers; and enabling electronic health record integration by expanding SSHA’s role to include direction setting and development of provincial domain repositories.

Underlying these initiatives, Albino said in an interview with, is strong technology, including the underlying network.

“The original goal (of the SSHA’s network) was to create a secure messaging infrastructure,” said Albino. Now, with applications as diverse and demanding as real-time streaming for video-assisted surgeries, the ante has been upped. The net runs on a Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) infrastructure to meet the “higher performance requirements in the health sector,” added Albino. “You can also manage traffic better with MPLS.”

The proprietary network runs on an encrypted pipe, said Michael Power, SSHA’s vice-president, privacy and security. “It provides a layer of security that you don’t usually get” in other networks, he said.

Other core technologies making the SSHA’s strategic plan possible include an internal mail service for 150,000 practitioners, which Albino said the agency is halfway through having everyone getting access, and extensive directories for patients, providers and locations.

SSHA has also undertaken considerable work in helping to avert any problems of the kind that arose in the wake of Ontario’s SARS outbreak of 2003. It is upgrading the current public health system for disease outbreak management to an enhanced version called Panorama. It will offer health care providers increased abilities to identify outbreaks and share information with other facilities and organizations across the country.

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