Behind the Week’s Headlines: high-tech will win over healthcare verticals

When it comes to health, as much as I support and admire those who espouse holistic approaches to medicine that are derived wholly from Mother Nature, technology is vital to our healthcare system.

And it’s no surprise that Roy Romanow’s findings reach the same conclusion. Romanow places a strong

emphasis on how telemedicine can help the system.

Unfortunately Romanow’s commission also tells us that although everyone agrees good use of technology makes for a good health system, there is still a great lack of the right kind of automation in the right areas.

And I’m not referring to the most complicated and costly kinds of technology, such as the need for more CAT scan machines. What the system lacks are things like a national personal electronic health records system.

As Monika Rola reported on Itbusiness.ca, one CEO in the telehealth business said it was “”absolutely phenomenal”” that something that makes up 10 per cent of the economy is still largely managed on paper.

That CEO is dumbfounded because the advent of a national records system would not be dependent on some future technology. We could have that today because that kind of thing simply is made up of PCs, servers, networks and software. But to get there requires consensus among jurisdictions, the political will and – what else – money.

Some telehealth headway has been made. There are many Canadian organizations that are addressing the need for telehealth and they are doing something to make it a reality for many of us.

In the summer of 1997 the Office of Health and the Information Highway (OHIH) was created, as Health Canada’s strategic centre for all matters concerning the use of information and communications technologies in the health sector. It has since been renamed the Canadian Health Infostructure.

It is charged with developing and administering knowledge development, partnerships and collaboration, and federal policy development. It also coordinates, facilitates and manages health infostructure-related activities, both within Health Canada and with external stakeholders.

In the past year Canadian Health Infostructure initiatives have led to a few impressive accomplishments.

In Timmins, Ont., $1 million went to a project called NORrad to allow more than a dozen health facilities to share diagnostic imaging services by using digital radiology technology and high-speed networks to move diagnostic images and interpretations to patients and their referring physicians.

In Whitehorse, the Yukon, $1 million went to support the Yukon Telehealth Network to deliver telehealth services and programs such as telemental health, telelearning and X-ray emergency support to six remote northern communities.

In Abiti-Temiscamingue, Que., $900,000 was provided to the primary care telemedicine and distance-nursing network in the region.

So we all now it’s good. And Roy Romanow has underlined that it’s good. And things are being done to make telehealth a reality for more and more Canadians.

But it’s not enough and this nation is capable of so much more. And for that patient on the gurney in the crowded hospital hallway, the waiting seems endless.

James Buchok is a former editor of Computer Dealer News. jbuchok@mts.net.

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