eHealth: Half of Ontario health records to be electronic by 2013

TheStar.com – news/healthzone.ca/news&features
May 11, 2011.   Tanya Talaga, Queen’s Park Bureau

In two years, half of all Ontario residents will be able to walk into a health clinic and have a doctor access their up-to-date personal electronic health record.

The once-troubled eHealth Ontario agency will announce Wednesday it is spending $72 million to link 700 health providers from 43 Toronto area hospitals and 201 long-term care facilities to a single electronic health record system known as ConnectingGTA.

ConnectingGTA will essentially translate and link up digital information from 700 sites so doctors can access each patient’s personal electronic medical record.

The University Health Network — which is already electronically linked to St. Michael’s Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital — is spearheading the project.

Greg Reed, the CEO of eHealth Ontario, told the Star in an interview the agency is well on the way to fulfilling its goal of creating electronic health records for all by 2015.

But critics fear the agency will never be able to recover after a $1 billion spending scandal that resulted in the departure of several key players in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government.

“We have already seen $1 billion wasted in the eHealth scandal,” said MPP Christine Elliott, the Progressive Conservatives’ health critic. “Now we have another $72 million commitment. I am dubious of their ability to do this.”

The scandal, which rocked the Legislature for most of 2009, revealed eHealth gave millions of dollars in sole-sourced contracts, executives received perks and were paid lucrative bonuses while consultants pocketed nearly $3,000 a day.

The agency was also criticized for having 385 consultants on the payroll, but now that number is 117 and none of the consultants are managers, Reed said.

Ontario is actually awash with electronic records, but the problem has been that few systems can share information, Reed said.

The entire province will eventually be covered in three regional hubs — one in the GTA, the others in northeastern and southwestern Ontario.

“I hope by this time next year we will be building for integrated health records for 100 per cent of the population by 2012,” he said.

Doctors will be able to access health records containing everything digitally available about their patients such as lab, X-ray and diagnostic tests, physician orders and drugs.

“You’ll be able to see that history when someone walks in the door,” Reed said. “Then, you’ve got what happens in the hospital, lab results, hospital results, radiology reports and discharge summaries.”

Not only will quality of patient care increase when everything is hooked together, medical errors should also decrease, said Dr. Robert Bell, president and CEO of the UHN, which includes Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret Hospital.

“You are going to your doctor four years from now and you are going to say, ‘Are you connected?’ If they say no, you should say, ‘Goodbye, I am going to find someone who is,’” Bell said. “It won’t be safe to practise medicine unless you are connected to this rich source of data.”

But Elliott fears hospitals outside the GTA are wasting millions to create their own systems that may never connect to anything.

“How many more hundreds of millions will be spent to achieve something we should have had years ago?” she asked. “We are way behind the rest of the world.”

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