Bringing lasting enhancements to
Canada’s health care system
Minister of Health
Seldom in my career have I encountered such a tremendous opportunity to make major improvements to a system of enormous importance to Canadians.
Now for the first time, all provinces and territories are working together with the federal government and Canada Health Infoway to harness the power of technology in order to make significant, substantive, lasting improvements to our health care system.
Ironically – and unfortunately – during the very decade our nation spent debating intensely the importance and sustainability of our health care system, we were falling farther and farther behind other developed countries in the implementation of health information technology.
Considering the fact that virtually every other aspect of our daily lives has been digitized, I think it is a travesty that we lag so far behind in the adoption of private and secure Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Driving records, bank accounts, even pizza preferences have all have been digitized and stored in central data banks.
That is not true of our X-rays and health records, which are more likely to be sitting in a file folder on a shelf in a doctor’s office or a hospital. Only about one in four physicians have computerized their patient files; health care lags about 20 years behind other sectors in the adoption of these technologies. There is tremendous room for improvement here, to move toward a system that is faster, more effective and safer than the one that has evolved over the past half century.
Canada Health Infoway is an independent, not-for-profit organization, to which all 14 federal, provincial and territorial governments belong. It is leading the way toward full digitization of Canadians’ health records and a national health information management system. Last year, all the provinces and territories and the federal government agreed upon a common systems architecture that makes it possible for this important work to proceed.
Our investment in Infoway will help transform all that paper and film into private and secure, encrypted digital files so patients and their doctors have access to this essential data whenever and wherever they need it.
This initiative will have a profound impact on the efficiency of our health care system. For example, let’s consider Cancer Care Ontario and its Computerized Physician Order Entry system for oncology. It allows physicians to directly prescribe complex chemotherapy drugs by computer.
As a result, it has the potential to reduce harmful medical errors caused by someone incorrectly reading someone else’s handwriting, or errors in calculating dosage.
In fact, cancer-specific systems like these have been proven to catch 48 per cent of ordering-related errors and 23 per cent of transcription-related errors – and Infoway is investing $3 million to expand this system to five more cancer centres.
As our Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated at this year’s Taming of the Queue Conference, we are making a substantial investment in health information and technology through Canada Health Infoway because it is critical to the timely, efficient delivery of top-quality health care in our country.
This is one of the reasons why our 2007 Budget invested an additional $400 million in Canada Health Infoway.
A famous computer advertising campaign once advised, “Think different.” Now is the time for those of us who work in the design and delivery of health care in Canada to “Think different” too. I believe we are making great strides, and when I consider the potential for improved efficiency, effectiveness and quality of care, I am very optimistic about the future.
Working together – as governments, professionals, providers, patients and family members – we can achieve the goal of making Canada a world leader in health care quality and patient safety.