Canada outpaces U.S. in health IT

Health IT could cut health care costs

SAN DIEGO – Canada Health Infoway will have pumped $562 million into health information technology projects as of next month, said Richard Alvarez, chief executive officer of the federally funded nonprofit corporation spearheading e-health in Canada. He spoke here at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference.

Alvarez said the amount includes $151 million for electronic health records (EHRs) systems and $130 million in federal investments in the development of diagnostic imaging systems. Provincial, regional or local health care organizations have matched the federal investments.

The investment in health IT will have a big payback, Alvarez said. He estimates it will shave $6 billion a year from Canada’s national health care bill.

The country’s total federal investment in health care IT since the turn of the century for its population of 31 million people dwarfs that of the United States, which has a population of 295 million, since the Office of the Coordinator of National Health IT (ONCHIT) was formed two years ago.

ONCHIT’s budget for fiscal 2006 is $111 million, while President Bush has asked for $169 million for health IT in the fiscal 2007 budget. Canada Health Infoway still has more than $500 million to spend to jump-start health IT projects, with a goal of providing EHRs to half of the Canadian population by 2009, Alvarez said.

A survey of U.S. health care chief information officers released at the conference shows that 18 percent of U.S. hospitals have installed EHRs, while 42 percent of hospitals are in the process of installing them and another 22 percent have developed a plan to install them.

Dr. Ilias Iakovodis, deputy head of health information and communications technologies at the European Commission, said that the European Union has already committed $1.2 billion in research and development funds to health IT projects. Eighty percent of primary care physicians in the EU are connected to an electronic data interchange system, he added.

EU countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Italy have adopted health care smart cards, Iakovodis said. The cards are interoperable across all these countries, he said.

Although the United States has no national network dedicated to health IT, the United Kingdom has made significant progress in deploying its network.

Gordon Hextall, chief operating officer at the National Programme for IT in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, said that a $921 million broadband network contract that the agency awarded to BT in February 2004 is up and running and is “already the largest [virtual private network] in England.… It will be the largest one on the planet” when it is deployed to all 18,000 NHS sites in England.

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