Almost 5,500 Ont. doctors using electronic records
TORONTO - Almost 5,500 doctors treating more than five million people in Ontario are now using electronic medical records, but many still can't communicate with each other, eHealth CEO Greg Reed said Tuesday.
Doctors who have adopted an electronic system can exchange information with a local hospital or other physicians within their own office, but a provincewide network has yet to be built, he said.
Some cities like Hamilton, Ottawa and London have connected hospitals to many doctors in the area. The best eHealth networks right now exist around big teaching hospitals, Reed acknowledged.
The next step is to build the "network of networks," so that no matter where you are in the province your doctor will be able to access information from hospitals, community care centres, nurses and the many other care providers they encounter, he said.
"So that's work that's ahead of us," said Reed, who took over the embattled agency seven months ago.
"It's sort of variable around the province. We're making progress, but we have more work to do."
Health Minister Deb Matthews, who hosted the news conference at a doctor's office in downtown Toronto, said eHealth has made major progress in convincing doctors to switch to electronic records, despite last year's spending scandal.
The Liberal government hopes to have "ehealth for everyone" by 2015, she said.
"We've got more physicians with electronic medical records than any other province in the country," Matthews said. "We are now a leader when it comes to the adoption of it."
Each doctor who switches to electronic records receives $28,000 over three years from the government to get the system up and running, she said. They can choose from 12 vendors who offer compatible systems.
About 2,500 more doctors have been hooked up since last year, when eHealth Ontario -- the agency in charge of the massive project -- was mired in scandal for spending millions on expensive consultants.
Matthews' predecessor, David Caplan, resigned amid a scathing auditor's report that showed more than $1 billion was spent on the project with little to show for it.
Not much has changed since then, said opposition critics.
Ontario still doesn't have a functioning, provincewide network of electronic health records that would save money and improve care, said Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott.
"Ontario's system of proceeding with an electronic health records system is a laughingstock internationally," she said.
"We are so far behind the other provinces. Only Nunavut, the Yukon and Northwest Territories are behind us."
And Ontario still has a long way to go, added NDP health critic France Gelinas. Taxpayers won't see a real "bang for their buck" until doctors can connect electronically to health units, hospitals, labs and other diagnostic offices.
"They are paying for physicians to put computers in their office, and this is a step that needs to be done," Gelinas said.
"But that does not give physicians access to any new information to provide better quality care."
Gelinas, who represents a sprawling northern Ontario riding, said she's also concerned that people who live in remote areas won't be able to connect as easily to the system.
"But right now it is not the biggest hurdle, because there's nothing to connect to," she said.