Workshop series promotes Ontario’s e-health agenda

The Information Technology Association of Canada will launch an ongoing “structured dialogue” between the Ontario government and IT industry in a bid bridge the gap between health care professionals and IT suppliers to better understand each other’s needs and capabilities, officials said.

Bernard Courtois, president and CEO of ITAC, says his organization, acting at the request of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, will serve as a facilitator in a series of discussions and workshops that will bring together the suppliers, ministry officials and health care providers.

The series will kick off on October 31 in Toronto, where Gail Paech, assistant deputy health minister and lead for the eHealth Program, is expected to outline the direction of the provincial program to employ IT to improve health care.

That session will be followed by small gatherings and larger conferences that will be held on a regular basis to get all the parties connected and talking, Courtois explained in an interview.

“We want to keep the dialogue going; we need a whole series of consultations,” he said.

A session on the human resource challenges facing the health sector will be held in mid-November, he said. Future gatherings are still being arranged.

“Many of them will be on more focused topics after we have been able to identify all the areas of concern,” Courtois said.

While the exercise will be based in Ontario for now, Courtois said if it delivers the kinds of benefits the ministry and ITAC hope for, it could be expanded to other provinces later.

David Jensen, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said the government sees the consultation process as an opportunity “to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the industry on ICT issues as the ministry moves forward with its e-health agenda.”

It envisages the Oct. 31 event as an opportunity to provide “a status report on the activities to date with respect to e-Health.”

“A more informative consultation session will be held later on when there is more specific information and direction available from the government,” Jensen said.

ITAC plans a parallel dialogue between the suppliers and the Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), Courtois said. It will bring the provincial medical and hospital associations into the discussions.

Courtois describes ITAC’s role as “a neutral facilitator trying to encourage suppliers and the medical community to think about what’s in the best interest of the health care sector.”

He admits it won’t be a simple task to get the IT suppliers to talk about the technology in a generic sense given the competitive nature of the industry, but “it should be useful for them to see where the ministry is headed.”

He is confident the vendors can remove their corporate hat to speak to the potential of IT to transform the delivery of health services.

In addition to human resources, the Health Ministry has identified two other priority subjects for ITAC to tackle, Courtois said.

These priorities involve ensuring the interoperability of IT systems in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, and in keeping the health care sector cognizant of the kinds of new products and future developments the IT industry is working on.

Other topics are bound to come up during the consultations, he said.

“If hospitals and others are going to make sensible choices in technology, they should know more about the kind of innovations that are coming at them,” Courtois notes. “We need to give them a broad range of perspectives to consider.”

The IT industry is well aware that “the health care system is complex and has many people involved in the decision making and care delivery,” he points out.

“We already have an interface with hospitals and local health networks. We need to have a structured consultation with them on where their priorities lie. This process has to serve everyone’s interests.”

The goal of government, providers and suppliers must be to modernize the health care system, he said, adding that the IT industry has vast knowledge about what is being done or tested in other jurisdictions that will benefit the development of e-health in Ontario.

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