It’s being called “the billion dollar boondoggle,” the attempt by the Ontario government to create an electronic health record for everyone in the province. The idea is to harness computers and the Internet to improve patient care, safety, and access to medical services.
So far, it’s not going very well. eHealth Ontario has been roiled by controversy over millions of dollars in untendered contracts that went to past associates or close contacts of its president and chairman. Both are gone, resigned or fired. And the Minister of Health, David Caplan, has had to resign.
eHealth represents the second abortive attempt by Ontario to bring its Ministry of Health, OHIP, and the province’s doctors and hospitals into the electronic age.
“Smart Systems for Health” was launched with great fanfare in 2002. It was going to “revolutionize health care delivery with an electronic health information sharing network.”
It failed to deliver on its promise and was replaced by eHealth. Today, nearly a thousand people work for eHealth at seven locations.
According to its web site, work is going ahead. One example: tenders are now out to establish a Diabetes Registry.
Other priorities are online management of prescription medications and a program to reduce wait times in hospital emergency rooms.
In all the fuss, there’s been virtually no light shed on the real problems at eHealth: what actually has or has not been achieved to date. The media have been singularly uninterested in examining the operations of this agency. I’ve not seen a single example of investigative journalism applied to the problems of eHealth.
These problems have been easy pickings for the Opposition parties. They don’t seem interested in getting a real reading on the agency’s work. They prefer to concentrate on the scandal over untendered contracts, rather than on what work’s been done under those contracts.
Now, they’ve got an even juicier target: the $25 billion deficit disclosed by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan in his economic update.
The Deputy Minister of Health, Ron Sapsford, was equally unforthcoming on eHealth’s operations when he appeared before the Legislature committee that’s investigating what’s gone wrong at the agency.
His main message was that none of it was his fault – the eHealth bosses had ignored his warnings about following “proper procedures” in awarding contracts.
It would be helpful if someone in authority could explain exactly where eHealth stands in fulfilling its goals.
Here’s a tip: Around half of all technology projects fail and have to be abandoned. It costs corporations and governments hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
This is the “dirty little secret” of the technology industry that no one talks about.
In the U.S., the Computer Audit association says half of the executives they surveyed report their companies have “killed” a technology project because it didn’t deliver as promised, or the company’s needs have changed.
In Britain, a survey of call centers by the Customer Experience Foundation showed that overruns and delays usually add 90 per cent to the cost of a project. New systems fail fifty per cent of the time.
“The expectation of frequent failure was epidemic,” the CEF says.
There’s no defense for untendered contracts in public business. But a contract scandal shouldn’t be allowed to cover up more serious problems of non-delivery.
That’s the real explanation that eHealth owes us.