eHealth as an economic driver?

eHealth week 2010 is in full swing in Barcelona, Spain this week.  As with other conferences taking place over the past few months, I have been following this conference through Twitter, blog posts, and online media sites.  I was interested to hear that Zoran Stancic, Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate General Information Society and Media (DG INFSO) believes that “eHealth offers not only the possibility to increase efficiency and quality care, it can also be seen as a growth machine for Europe”:

http://www.healthtechwire.com/The-Industry-s-News-unb.146+M54d96a3adc5.0.html

I have long argued that Canada is not doing enough to leverage its eHealth investments to drive economic development.  Much of Canada’s installed healthcare IT infrastructure in hospitals and regional health authorities is based on software from multinational and U.S. based companies.  While some of these vendors do employ Canadians and the Ontario government made a significant investment in an Agfa R&D facility in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, there is no comprehensive and integrated national strategy for positioning Canada and Canadian organizations as world leaders in what is arguably one of the fastest growing IT segments.

What do you think?  Should Canada take a more proactive position on developing Canadian eHealth solutions for our own use and for export? Can we “kill two birds with one stone” and use eHealth to address both the sustainability of our health system and create new, high value jobs?   If so, which organizations (both inside and outside government) are best position to play an active role in promoting and implementing this agenda?

Mike

3 responses to “eHealth as an economic driver?

  1. Interesting thought Mike. Perhaps the answer depends on where you sit in the political spectrum. Should governments protect local companies at the expense of free marketsÉ

    I think you also have to look at the historical eHealth/Canada Health Infoway funding context and then compare what is currently happening. CHI is the single largest agent of change, when it comes to eHealth investments in Canada. By and large they focused on acute care project; most of which have been won by multinational vendors. If you believe in an unfettered free market, then it is difficult to argue that this was in any way unfair. If you believe in protecting Canadian companies then this process did no favours to local companies. Could they have tweaked the free market to give Canadian companies a slight advantage…maybe, but the horse has left the barn on these economic opportunities.

    If one is to look to near and distant future, more of the $500M from CHI will likely end up in the hands of Canadian companies. The bulk of the funding is aimed at getting doctors to buy EMRs, and the vast majority of these vendors are locally owned and controlled. This will create Canadian jobs for Canadians. All that being said, in terms of a larger economic picture it is small potatoes.

    What concerns me is what happens once the $500M is spent…which is rather small amount of money per capita when compared to what the US is spending. What else besides CHI is in place to help small Canadian companies, not only service the Canadian eHealth market but also export into other markets….that buzzing sound you hear is crickets chirping. 🙂

    Mark

  2. OK, let’s separate the “if” from the “how”. First question to answer is whether there is any interest, in any stakeholder community, in developing a vibrant, indigenous eHealth vendor community capable of competing on a global playing field.

    So, what do you think? If not, then the rest of the discussion is moot.

    Mike

  3. The answer is depends. There are a number of national organizations that have some kind of interest/mandate in a Canadian vendor community. The problem is that either they are too broad in their focus, or have only a limited interest in promoting a vibrant Canadian eHealth industry:

    1) Industry Canada – this is part of their larger role in promoting Canadian products and services.

    2) NRC – funds innovation amongst Canadian vendors; including eHealth vendors. Funding innovation is great, but I’ve always seen sales and marketing as a bigger challenge for Canadian eHealth vendors.

    3) ITAC Health – represent the views of the vendors when it comes to lobbying the government, but they also represent non-Canadian vendors.

    4) CHI – no specific mandate towards Canadian vendors, but are a strategic investor.

    If you are looking to government to step up to the plate, the logical national player to have an interest is Industry Canada. What do you think?

    BTW – I purposely left out the provincial organizations. Developing a more vibrant Canadian eHealth ecosystem requires a cross-Canada effort in my opinion.

    Mark

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