Paul MacNeill

With just one brief sentence the priorities of PEI’s bloated health bureaucracy become clear - protecting self-indulgent whims can take precedent over finding ways to deliver better, more efficient health care to Islanders.

It’s a reality Premier Dennis King and his increasingly anemic Health and Wellness Minister James Aylward must confront before we waste more money and human capital on the rabbit hole that is electronic health records.

So what has the department done to warrant such a harsh critique? It’s more what it hasn’t done, like basic homework to determine if our electronic record system is actually serving the needs of Island patients.

PEI has spent somewhere between $80 and $100 million creating a system that does not transfer with patients receiving out of province care. It’s no small issue. Annually we spend close to $100 million providing out of province care. Health PEI developed a work around in Nova Scotia by plunking a single computer capable of reading our electronic records at both the IWK and QEII in Halifax. It is a ‘solution’ that works for the bureaucracy, not patients or doctors. It is laughable in its inadequacy.

I filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request seeking government records supporting the odd decision. If the department’s priority is quality of care there should be analysis of medical outcomes, ministerial briefing notes or reports written.

Nope. According to the deputy minister no records were found after a ‘reasonable search’ going back as far as 2016. This says all you need to know about the power of bureaucracy to push its own parochial agenda. The narrowness of its vision should scare the hell out of every Islander. The big picture issue is not what systems are in place in any given province. Every government has been bamboozled by the dream of single jurisdiction electronic systems.

What the dream ignores is the reality that the provision of health care is not solely dictated by geographic boundaries, especially in the Maritimes.

If Aylward wants to show vision and rare ministerial courage he will call on his Nova Scotia and New Brunswick counterparts to build an interprovincial system. Why can’t it be done? We created the Atlantic Lottery Corporation and Atlantic Vet College. These are regional institutions that work.

Today Nova Scotia is preparing to spend half a billion dollars creating a one-patient-one-record system. It makes no sense from a patient or taxpayer perspective to build competing silos in every province. Bureaucratic fiefdoms do not improve delivery of care, yet we know from the FOIPP request that transforming a hodgepodge of provincial systems into an efficient regional effort is not even on PEI’s radar.

Aylward is now repeating the same mistakes of past health ministers. He is promising to spend $9.5 million to deliver electronic medical records within a year to clinics across PEI. This after a previous effort ended in failure and taxpayers were stuck with the bill. Aylward’s level of political naïveté has not been seen since Chester Gillan promised electronic health care records would be delivered in 15 months and cost $13 million, all in, way back in 2005.

An RFP is still not finalized and likely won’t be until the end of January, at the earliest. There is almost no chance the project will be delivered on time or budget, but that matters not to the minister. He’s spinning Islanders just like Gillan and every minister since, has.

The department claims it has completed a scan of EMR rollout in other jurisdictions and promises to work with Nova Scotia to ensure the data of Island patients is accessible. What’s missing is a promise to actually do the right thing and build a single regional health record system, which is the only way to guarantee it. This is also a direction in the best interest of patients.

It is time for the Opposition Greens to get off their civility high horse and challenge government for its folly. Why is the King government not prepared to provide the best health care for Islanders, regardless of where treatment is received? Why is the King government repeating the failure of the MacLauchlan, Ghiz and Binns governments?

Electronic health records are vital and an important addition to patient care. But done improperly or piecemeal, as has happened in many jurisdictions including PEI, they become a drain on limited public finances, a bureaucratic behemoth and a headache for health care professionals forced to work with them.

It’s time for a PEI Minister of Health to do the right thing and put patients first. If Aylward is not prepared to deliver, he should find another seat in cabinet.

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at paul@peicanada.com

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