Ontario’s plan for electronic health records is at risk, official says

Ontario must move faster with a series of legislative and regulatory measures in order to meet its commitment to create electronic health records for all residents by 2015, a senior official with eHealth Ontario says.

“It’s time the province decided if it’s really committed to this or not,” argues Doug Tessier, senior vice-president of development and implementation for the agency responsible for implementing the government’s multibillion-dollar electronic health records (EHR) strategy.

Progress on the province’s EHR file was hampered by the eHealth Ontario scandal surrounding compensation for consultants, Tessier says. The scandal triggered an audit, which concluded that the provincial government mismanaged over $1 billion and ultimately led to the resignations of former health minister David Caplan and former deputy minister of health Ron Sapsford.

“The swirl and scandal has hurt us,” says Tessier, considered the government’s expert on electronic health systems.

But Ontario’s EHR woes predate the scandal, Tessier says, arguing that there have consistently been delays in making key political decisions since the province first committed to implementation in 2000.

Deliberations on major decisions within the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care have often taken two years, Tessier says. “If you are really committed to this, two years is too long. … To my mind, if the government is not committed to something, they hem and haw.”

Moreover, even the basic, legal framework for patient EHRs —  which will require changes to laws governing patient record management and privacy — still isn’t in place, more than seven years after the province established the agency, Tessier says. Not only are “two or three pieces of new legislation” still required, “but we’ve also got to undo a number of pieces of [existing] legislation.”

The government must also do more persuade health regulatory colleges to overhaul policies that impact on EHRs, Tessier argues. “Let’s put our arm around them and gently bring them into the 21st century. … With the regulations, the legislation and the policy changes that government has to do, that’s not so gentle. That’s on the critical path. If they don’t do it, we’re blocked completely.”

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