Report proposes timeline for health data improvement
January 31, 2024
OTTAWA – The Public Policy Forum released a new report calling for the urgent modernization of the data and digital infrastructure that underpins Canadian healthcare. The report, titled, Unlocking Healthcare: How to free the flow of life-saving health data in Canada, sounds the alarm on Canada’s “chronic, subpar performance on data, the vital currency of a digital-age system.”
The report makes the case that because healthcare data systems are insufficiently digitized and interconnected, patients, family advocates and clinicians are condemned to partially informed decisions, and administrators to poor allocation of scarce resources. In the very worst cases, this can mean medical practitioners missing critical medical information, with tragic consequences.
Written by award-winning journalist Christina Frangou and informed by a panel of experts, the report calls for a “giant leap forward” that includes interoperability between healthcare systems and a renewed emphasis on the use of data to promote wellness.
“Electronic records are the cornerstone of any credible human-centred health system. Yet, incredibly, they are neither standard nor standardized across Canada,” the report says. Without good data, “referrals become cumbersome, diagnoses slow and unsafe treatments all too common.” As well, data shortcomings are contributing to the burnout of healthcare workers.
The report builds on work underway between the federal government, provinces and territories on this issue, outlining some best-case international examples for healthcare data use, where every patient has a single electronic medical record accessible at all health institutions, including hospitals, primary-care clinics and imaging centres, facilitating the diagnostic use of artificial intelligence across records; and others where personal wearables have been deeply integrated into day-to-day healthcare system use.
The report’s recommendations include:
- The elimination of faxes for the transmission of medical data by the end of 2024;
- A commitment to paperless healthcare systems –interoperable and with seamless user access – by 2028;
- Incentivization of wearable technology for medical use, either through tax measures or consumer rebates;
- The publication of a patient health data bill of rights by provincial and territorial governments;
- An annual, independent report to Canadians on progress toward health data accessibility and ownership; and
- Federal legislation to facilitate the interoperability of digital health records and ensure accessibility across all jurisdictions.
The report notes a flurry of healthcare reform-related reports in recent years. “By our count, there have been at least 32 reports in the past five years totalling more than 335 pages,” the report states. “They cover everything from elder care to interprovincial data usage to primary care. That we need to point yet again to the solutions is a problem.”
“The potential of healthcare data is utterly transformative,” said Edward Greenspon (pictured), president and CEO of PPF. “Let this be the last report on the matter. Canadians deserve a data system where healthcare providers can access the data and digital tools they need to do their jobs; and people have the information to co-own their health outcomes.”
The expert panel that informed PPF’s report included: co-chair Dr. Victoria Lee, clinical associate professor, University of British Columbia and assistant professor, Simon Fraser University; co-chair David MacNaughton, president and CEO, Palantir Canada; Dr. Vivek Goel, president, University of Waterloo; Dr. Jane Philpott, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, director of the School of Medicine, Queen’s University; Dr. Sabrina Wong, co-director, B.C. Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network, University of British Columbia; Sonia Kumar, CEO, Body Brave; Georgina Black, managing partner, Deloitte; Karen Oldfield, president and CEO, Nova Scotia Health.