Canada Health Infoway (@Infoway): Back to the Future again


How you greeted the news last week of Canada Health Infoway’s rebranding and new campaign to mobilize support for digital health will probably depend very much on how you have viewed the success of this pan-Canadian federally funded health organization to date.

Over its 17 years of existence, Infoway has had more than its share of detractors for either failing to do enough with hundreds of millions of dollars it was charged with co-coordinating to bring digital health to Canada, or for focusing on the wrong things at the wrong times. Or take electronic prescribing: That Infoway’s PrescribeIT initiative has now spread to three provinces will be viewed as a major success by supporters of the organization. However, detractors will point out Canadian is many years behind other countries in ePrescribing, PrescribeIT involves few physician practices,  and at least one major national pharmacy chain has evidently failed to endorse Infoway’s funding model.

Part of the conflicting views of Infoway can perhaps be traced to the way it has radically reinvented itself over the years.  In his address to the Infoway Partnership Conference in Montreal last week, Infoway President and CEO Michael Green acknowledged that over the course of its existence, Infoway’s role has radically shifted focus; from building the infrastructure to support digital health, to providing clinician tools, and most recently to driving access for Canadians to digital health.

The latest iteration of the driving force behind Infoway – ACCESS 2022 sees the organization firmly positioning itself as an advocate for building a coalition committed to promoting “a future where all Canadians have access to their health information through the availability and use of digital health tools and services, which will empower patients and improve health outcomes.”

“ACCESS 2022 will bring together the collective expertise of an agile technology sector, the knowledge base of health system experts, and the insights and experiences of patients and caregivers, to ultimately meet and exceed the demands of Canadians in the 21st century…We are asking all Canadians to join us in this movement,” Green said.

Unveiled with touques for all and the music of Stompin Tom Connors at the Montreal conference, it was all very archetypically Canadian – and once again was doubtless viewed with either enthusiasm or cynicism depending on how you view Infoway.

We actually have a credible objective assessment of the organization presented in Fit for Purpose, a report published in March by two highly respected health policy experts Drs. Danielle Martin and Pierre-Gerlier Forest.  At the request of the federal health minister, Martin and Forest assessed all 8 federal pan-Canadian health agencies including Infoway.

They noted that Infoway has had several signature successes, including:

  • Driving the digital health agenda in Canada by creating pan-Canadian leadership
  • Parnering with all jurisdictions to achieve “close to” the 2004 federal/provincial/territorial health accord goal of 100% availability of electronic health records thereby resulting in $19.2 billion in cost savings and efficiencies since 2007
  • Initiating a patient engagement framework that “provides Canadians with access to their health information and digital health solutions that empower them to be more active members of their care team.”

However, while not criticizing Infoway directly the report goes on to identify significant shortfalls in how Canada is doing with digital health:

Data currently exists that could be used to improve care in hospitals, primary care environments, community settings, and health regions across the country. Unfortunately, the underlying architecture to support this meaningful use and enable continuous improvement across health systems does not yet exist in Canada. Infrastructure has been built and electronic health record systems purchased across the country, but two key outcomes are still missing: an inter-operable set of electronic systems and a “single” accessible electronic record for every Canadian patient as a critical means to achieving coordinated, integrated care.

How successful Infoway is in addressing this – and it is clearly committed to doing so  – will very much determine how it is viewed in future years.

(Image from website)


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