Hospital group asks province for $15M e-health boost

The Ontario Hospital Association is asking the provincial government for $15 million in startup money for an emergency department IT project.

The OHA’s recommendation was part of a report released Monday on electronic health care. The report, Shaping Health Care for the People of Ontario, claims success with early e-Health initiatives but insisted on increased government funding for the province to fully realize the benefits of information technology in health care.

The OHA says the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s money would go towards an Emergency Department Information System pilot project. The project would create a standard electronic system for emergency department data collection, reporting and workload monitoring. The report, which concluded Phase 1 of the OHA’s e-Health Initiative, also urges both the federal and provincial governments to commit to multi-year e-Health funding so Canada can keep pace with technological advancements in health care.

“The opportunities are enormous and virtually untapped,” said Dr. Ed Brown, director of the North Network e-health program. “We can no longer ignore the benefits that e-health can provide.”

To illustrate those benefits, Brown conducted a videoconference with Kaarine Evans, an 81-year-old Kirkland Lake, Ont. resident. Evans was the North Network’s first patient, and remains an unabashed booster of the program. The Network is designed to allow patients in rural areas access to specialists.

“It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and I think it’s even gone beyond that,” she said of the Network.

The North Network has allowed Evans to receive post-operation checkups via videoconference, rather than traveling to Timmins, Ont. for face-to-face meeting with a specialist. Brown said the Network, which is present in 15 hospitals and is slated to move into 35 additional facilities, was endorsed by 94 per cent of patients in pilot trials.

Brown added advances in information and communications technology make it possible for doctors not only converse with patients through the Internet, but to also to measure heartbeats and conduct skin, ear, nose and throat examinations remotely.

“It’s as if the patient is in the office,” he said.

According to the OHA report, e-Health not only improves access to health care, but also enables online medical training and real-time databases of health information, and reduces duplication through patient records that can be instantly shared among health-care providers.

Early e-Health achievements also include the electronic Child Health Network, which provides a shared, secure,integrated electronic health record of children treated by six Ontario hospitals.

But the report suggested there is much room for enhancing e-Health in Ontario and offered a host of recommendations for maximizing the efficiencies and advantages offered by an integrated health care information and communications technology system.

Aside from direct funding from the province and Ottawa, the report urges the provincial government to establish a secured e-Health information network and implement privacy legislation prohibiting disclosure of confidential health information. It also pushes for tax incentives to encourage private sector investment in information technology, and increased flexibility for hospitals to develop new revenue streams and partnerships with the private sector.

Tom Closson, chair of the Ontario Hospital e-Health council, was optimistic about the province further embracing IT in its health agenda.

“I think the province is trying to give a priority not only to health care, but also to information systems,” he said. “This is something the government sees as improving the health-care system in Ontario.”

Closson said he would like the province to double its e-Health investment, to four per cent of total health care spending from the current two per cent level. Banks spend approximately 12-15 per cent of their total budgets on information systems, he said.

When asked if an increase in e-Health funding would mean cuts in other areas of health care, Closson said investment in e-Health will result in a more efficient health care system.

“This is about being able to provide better care and to broaden the scope of that care,” he said.

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