Government & Policy
Two evaluations of eHealth under way
October 19, 2016
TORONTO – The Liberal government is scrambling to get a valuation of eHealth Ontario before the auditor general releases what is expected to be a damning report on the controversial electronic health agency.
The Toronto Star said government officials are worried about auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s (pictured) upcoming audit of eHealth.
Insiders said that’s why Health Minister Eric Hoskins has asked Premier Kathleen Wynne’s privatization guru, Ed Clark, to appraise the value of assets connected to the province’s digital health strategy without compromising patient privacy.
The hope is that Clark – architect of the Liberals’ sell-off of Hydro One and the expansion of beer and wine sales in supermarkets – will mitigate Lysyk’s expected criticism of eHealth’s computer networking problems by showing it is worth the hundreds of millions of dollars spent.
While Canada Health Infoway, the federal-provincial body overseeing digital health initiatives, estimates such online systems have generated $16 billion in benefits nationwide over the past decade, eHealth Ontario has been plagued with issues.
A 2009 auditor general’s report found $1 billion had been spent on eHealth and its predecessor with little to show for it at that point in time.
Then in 2012, the legislative watchdog found that $24.4 million was spent on an electronic registry of diabetes patients that was unceremoniously scrapped before it was up and running.
One issue that Lysyk is bound to be looking at is whether eHealth has improved its performance on the value-for-money scale.
In an interview, the auditor general confirmed she and her team had been looking at the electronic health records agency long before Hoskins’ move on Friday.
“I heard about the (Clark) announcement and, yes, we are doing an audit of eHealth,” Lysyk said.
“We’re not looking at the value of it for … sales purposes or anything like that. So we wouldn’t be commenting on anything like that (in the annual report),” she said, adding it would be released “within a couple of weeks of when the house rises” on Dec. 8.
That means her annual value-for-money report could come as early as late November.
Lysyk, an independent officer of the legislature, stressed that she could not discuss this latest eHealth audit until it is tabled in the house.
“But in terms of why they’re doing the announcement and the timing, it’s their decision,” she said of the health minister’s gambit. “We’re just proceeding along the way of doing the audit.”
Hoskins defended his decision to announce the eHealth evaluation. “Please don’t read anything into the timing of it,” the health minister said, noting that eHealth’s 10-year mandate expires at the end of 2017, so the government must begin looking ahead to next steps.
“The reason for asking Mr. Clark to conduct this … value audit … is so we can understand the assets. In a sense, it’s almost like taking an inventory,” Hoskins said Wednesday.
“A tremendous amount has been accomplished through the development of our digital health strategy . . . 80 percent of primary care providers use it in their offices,” he said, arguing that most hospital-based diagnostic imaging is now digital and lab results can be accessed through the system.
“So it’s prudent to see what that inventory is – to establish the value of the assets, both from an infrastructure perspective but also, importantly, (from an) intellectual property perspective, so we can leverage that as we go forward with a new strategy.”
Hoskins emphasized that patient privacy will be protected.
“Let me be clear about one thing … there will be no sale of eHealth or its assets or its intellectual property,” the minister said, adding that Clark, the former TD Bank CEO who now serves as an unpaid adviser, will report back “in the coming months.”
New Democrat MPP France Gélinas (Nickel Belt) has warned that the Liberals want to “privatize more of our healthcare system” by somehow monetizing the investment in eHealth.