Canada’s electronic health records initiative stalled by federal funding freeze

The federal government’s failure to release $500 million in promised funding has slowed the next phase of the multibillion-dollar national effort to implement electronic health records (EHRs), says Canada Health Infoway President Richard Alvarez.

The year-long freeze on federal funding has compromised plans to rollout initiatives designed to improve physician uptake of electronic records, Alvarez says. This will do nothing to improve Canada’s status as an international EHR laggard, Alvarez says.

“The next very serious phase is basically in community physicians’ offices,” says Alvarez, head of the federal agency created in 2001 to promote provincial and territorial EHR programs. “The vast majority of the [new] money was earmarked for that. That’s an absolutely crucial step in this journey. We’ve been slowed down. If we don’t have money to invest in that area we obviously can’t do that until such time as the money is reinstated.”

The $500 million was promised in the 2009 federal budget, raising the government’s overall electronic health records investment to $2.1 billion. Since 2001, Ottawa has now paid $1.6-billion for an array of programs in which federal funds have been matched by provincial and territorial monies to build nationally compatible systems and platforms. Alvarez estimates that about $3 billion has been invested to date by various levels of government in the development of EHRs in Canada.

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