Better health data means a healthier Canada

Posted on December 10, 2021 in Health Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors DO
Dec. 8, 2021.   By David O’Toole

Never before has there been such a national discussion about health data. In the past it was the stuff health experts, epidemiologists, data scientists, and we here at the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) talked about every day — because we know that good health data can drive important, life-saving change.

But now, Canadians know too. Conversations turn to the number of local COVID cases, ICU capacity, vaccination rates, the cost of COVID care and the general sense of uncertainty created by the pandemic.

It’s so important and top of mind that the federal government’s Speech from the Throne called it out directly, citing a need for “improving data collection across health systems to inform future decisions and get the best possible results.”

And now is the time to improve our data collection and infrastructure so we can also improve the health of Canadians.

Over more than 25 years we’ve made tremendous progress. For instance, once we began publicly reporting on the potentially inappropriate use of antipsychotics and daily use of restraints in long-term care homes, both rates dropped dramatically over time. The same opportunity exists now, on a broader scale.

With technology and data science, we’re able to use data to see into the future in ways that were near impossible 10 or 15 years ago. Through COVID, CIHI was able to help governments develop new modelling systems to predict case count increases. This allowed them to make better decisions and apply interventions well in advance of the worst becoming a reality.

While we can see the opportunity, it’s not simple. Health care data collection and analysis can be complicated in Canada — we have 13 different health systems, some antiquated ways of gathering health data and some health organizations that still rely on fax machines to share information.

Let’s continue to leverage the good work and unprecedented collaboration we’ve seen between our health care providers, hospitals, health authorities and all levels of governments over the past two years.

Here’s what we need now:

The opportunity is now. It will take leadership, courage and collaboration. Let’s not let it pass us by.

David O’Toole is president and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Health Information.


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