Ontario Boasts 5m Digitised Medical Charts, but Critics Remain Wary

Ontario's Health minister, Deb Matthews, announced yesterday that the province's overhauled electronic health records program had successfully digitised 5 million patients' medical charts. She added that there are now 5,500 doctors using electronic records-almost twice as many as a year ago.

This announcement comes after two years of bad publicity over the multi-million dollar initiative. Critics continue to point out the billions that the Federal Government and other provinces are spending on expensive commercial software to implement the new electronic system, instead of open-source programs that are equally effective and far cheaper.

There is no dispute over the need for computerised medical charts, however. Experts expect them to reduce costs, increase efficiency and curb medical error-necessary steps in the Canadian healthcare system. Unfortunately, the slowness with which the system has been implemented is a matter of great contention.

The provincial Auditor-General pointed out excessive spending by Ontario's eHealth agency. These included generous, untendered contracts with outside consultants, who sometimes outnumbered eHealth employees. The scandal surrounding this issue led to the resignation of both the organisation's CEO and the previous Health Minister last year.

In response to critics' claims that the Government is needlessly relying on overly expensive software, Ms. Matthews stated that new outsourcing rules and other control are being implemented, and that there is now a great deal of effort to wipe clean the image of waste around the health agency.