The one part of eHealth Ontario worth saving

Smart Systems for Health was a failure. eHealth Ontario has been afiasco. Perhaps one more rebranding will do the trick – OntarioHealthTech, anyone?

I’ve been reluctant to touch on this topic, in part because I feelguilty for not following it more carefully. Three years ago, I attendeda conference here in Toronto where Michael Connolly, then the presidentof Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), outlined changes in governance that were supposed to give the agency more freedom to do its work.

“Nobody was in charge,” explained Michael Connolly, SSHA’s CEO.“(Health and Long-Term Care Minister George Smitherman) wanted to knowwho to talk to about e-health, but there was no one person.”

The framework will see the creation of a formal e-health programin Ontario led by an e-health council composed of industrypractitioners, Connolly said. The council will have a secretariatwithin the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care which will beresponsible for policies, planning, developing a business architecturefor e-health projects and setting standards. E-health systemdevelopment and maintenance work will move out of the ministry and intothe SSHA, which will have more flexibilty than it has enjoyed in thepast, Connolly said.

Why this didn’t prove viable I can’t say, but later that same year the TorontoStar, which has continued to provide the closest scrutiny aroundOntario’s e-health challenges, published a highly critical report thatsuggested Smart Systems was more or less doomed. Someone in theprovincial government must have been reading the paper that day,because eventually the whole thing was quietly shut down. eHealthOntario was to be the phoenix that rose out of Smart Systems’ ashes.

Now that Premier Dalton McGuinty has replaced Dr. Alan Hudson as chair of eHealth Ontario,it’s hard to imagine a new team getting the kind of political andpublic support necessary to advance that remains an important agenda.In any other kind of organization or industry, the lack of integrationand manual processes in health care would be considered highlyunproductive, not to mention detrimental to quality service. Of all theissues facing Ontarians, nothing resonates more powerfully than healthcare, and if statisticians are to be believed, nothing is going tobecome more expensive. Some estimates have indicated that some 70 percent of public sector spending will be focused on health care by 2017.Ontario will likely represent a large chunk of that money.

Amid all the clamour about untendered contracts for highly paidconsultants and gossip about tea and Choco Bites, it’s critical thatsomeone come forward with a vision for e-health in Ontario. Yes, thoseresponsible for fiscal mismanagement and corruption need to bepunished, but the work to improve patient outcomes should not be amongthe casualties of this scandal. Technology won’t solve all the problemsin our hospitals and clinics, but it promises to ease information flowthat could make for better decisions from the doctor’s office to theER. If the word “eHealth” is now tainted in Ontario, that’s fine. Stopcalling it eHealth. Instead, just call it health care done right.

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