Ontario to take second look at e-health initiatives

TORONTO – The Ontario government will conduct external reviews of all its e-health initiatives as it attempts to create a more formal program to serve health-care providers and their patients, a provincial CIO said Wednesday.

Health-care experts are in the process of establishing a

secretariat for Ontario’s e-Health Council that will include experts from within the health-care sector and within the Ministry of Health, all of whom will be focused on integrating the various e-health strategies, Lorelle Taylor told a meeting of ITAC Ontario. Taylor, CIO for the Ministry of Long Term Care’s Human Services I&IT Cluster, said the secretariat will work in tandem with Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA) on delivering IT services to the health-care sector, and an e-Health Council that will be responsible for overall policy development.

The moves are part of an overall framework Ontario recently developed to organize e-health projects across the province. Taylor said the Ministry conducted a series of regional consultations late last year with practitioners in every region that showed a need for more transparency and better communication of Ontario’s strategy at the local level.

“Stakeholders didn’t know where to go for e-health matters,” Taylor said. “This (program) develops a clear structure for multi-year planning and funding.”

Ontario’s upcoming e-health projects include the ongoing rollout of an integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS) to 37 regional health units. Based on a system originally developed in B.C., iPHIS reports information on communicable diseases such as SARS, Taylor said. “This will get us out of yellow sticky-mode,” she said, referring to the often manual process of tracking disease-related information. Unlike the B.C. system, Ontario’s iPHIS includes contact and quarantine management features, she added. “I think the hope is that that function will never be used,” she said.

Late last week Canada Health Infoway said it would examine iPHIS as it begins a $100-million project to create a national system for tracking communicable diseases. Taylor said Ontario is also working closely with Infoway on its main priority of creating a Canada-wide electronic health record, given the province’s size and variety of health-care providers.

SSHA chief executive Mike Connolly warned, however, that the health-care sector has failed to develop a consistent definition for what an electronic health record is, and that in a survey the agency conducted with health-care practitioner revealed other priorities.

“What they want is secure e-mail — the ability to communicate between organizations,” he said. “Electronic health records didn’t even make the list.”

SSHA has been conducting a secure e-mail pilot project with the University Health Network, the Toronto Canadian Community Access Centre and St. Elisabeth Hospital, which will be expanded to six other providers and some community-based physicians, Connolly said. The province has also given the agency enough money to deploy approximately 12,000 workstations to the many regional health-care providers that don’t have basic hardware and software, Connolly added.

“You’ll walk into these places and they literally have nothing,” he said.

Other SSHA priorities include the development of client registry and identity management strategies for authenticating health-care provider staff, which will take about a year, Connolly said.

Taylor said Ontario recently awarded a contract to Cap Gemini to create an Ontario Laboratory System that will allow clinical order-entry and provide a repository for lab tests. The first phase of the system should be ready by January of next year, she said.

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