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article imageOntario electronic health records facing questions about cost Special

By KJ Mullins     Sep 18, 2009 in Health
Why is Ontario spending on eHealth when it already has a computer-based system functioning? That question is being tossed around as eHealth defends its use of a new system.
The Child Health Network stores health records and links to more than 100 Ontario hospital sites. The one catch is that those records are only for people under the age of 19 reports the Toronto Star.
Opposition health critic Christine Elliot has questioned why the Liberal government has already spent $650 million to make a new system when the one in place could be used with adaptions.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is also questioning the government not using the children's network as a model. Consultants have instead cost taxpayers $3,000 a day to come up with a different system.
I called Karl Belanger, spokesperson for MP Jack Layton to discuss the matter. He told me after I explained my questions that it was a provincial matter. When I told him that Layton's riding was indeed in Toronto, making him part of Ontario Belanger responded, "Talk to the people in Queen's Park."
Olivia Chow
Olivia Chow
Tania Liu
MP Olivia Chow was not surprised by the spending wastes that McGuinty. It's who you know in the government. I am not surprised to see duplications and waste going on. This is most unfortunate for the citizens on Ontario."
EHealth says that while the Children's Health Network is important it is not large enough to be used by all health care providers according to the Star article. The Children's Health Network has been in place for over ten years. According to their website the "eCHN enables authorized healthcare providers across Ontario to access the latest medical data, including lab reports, clinic notes, surgical and radiology images and reports about a child instantly, from different sources, in the consolidated form of a single medical chart. "
Digital Journal spoke to Child Health Network CEO Andrew Szende about this issue.
"It's up for the Ministry of Health to decide what programs are used."
When I asked Szende point blank if the current model could be expanded he said that of course it could. That this is not a technical issue rather a policy issue. I asked then if to expand the program would it cost the hundreds of millions currently being spent.
"I would be very surprised if it took that much. Very surprised."
The Child Health Network is funded by the government Szende went on to say. "If the government of Ontario were to ask we of course would expand our program for all citizens of Ontario, not just the children."
The final question I asked of Szende was if the government has approached his company to expand its network, after all the network is working and working well for the children of the province. The answer was no, no one from the Ministry of Health has asked about using the model for the entire population.
I spent the morning being rerouted from one government office to another trying to get the Ministry of Health's side of this story. When I spoke to eHealth on Thursday they referred me to the Ministry.
On Friday I spoke to Doug Tessier from eHealth's Integration and Alignment division. That department is responsible for identifying and resolving policy, program and tactical issues both within and across e-Health initiatives, and for ensuring e-Health alignment on critical elements including LHINs, physician e-Health, client registry and EMPI. Tessier said that the program will take time to fully be in place, the target date is 2015. He also said while the Child Health Network is a great asset for Ontario is just can't do all that is needed for the entire province. The main problem with the eCHN model according to Tessier is the interface system that is in place. That system would be too costly in the long run for the entire health care system to be run from it. Tessier also said that the network will cost much more by the time it is fully functional.
"At this time electronic records do not exist in Ontario. We're putting together a model that will encompass all of the health records, from doctor's offices to hospitals to medication. That takes time."
While the target date is 2015 Tessier believes that the system will be in place before that.
"It does take a long time to build the model. We're getting the heart of the system, the drugs and hospitals, the doctors offices, but the integration of all phases of the system will take time."
Tessier said of the eCHN program that while it is very good at what it does, not all of Ontario's children are in the system.
"There are about 1 million children in the system. They are mostly children who have been treated at hospital. Not all doctors that treat children are part of the eCHN system. To be in the system children have to be treated by an eCHN member. This does not touch most community doctor offices. Our system will have to include the whole deal. eCHN is an important partner of eHealth and we are moving forward together."
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