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Next steps for Digital Health and Ontario Health

On November 13, 2019 Ontario’s Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, announced further details to the government’s digital health strategy. This came a week after its inclusion in the Fall Economic Statement, introduced by Minister of Finance Rod Phillips. In the announcement, Elliott outlined the Ontario Government’s strategy to modernize the health care system, improve patient access to digital and virtual options and bring the patient experience into the 21st century.

According to the announcement today, once this strategy is fully implemented, patients can expect:

  • More virtual care options, the ease of video visits and improved access to virtual care
  • Expanded access to online appointment booking
  • Greater data access for patients including the ability for patients to access online records
  • Better, more connected tools for front-line providers including the ability to access patient records stored across multiple health service locations
  • Data integration, predictive analytics, fewer barriers to integrating and using secure health information to manage health resources

Phase one of the digital strategy, announced today, will include increased access to virtual care and video visits with health care providers and the ability of Ontario Health Teams to use and share information for patient care.

The government plans to achieve this with proposed changes to the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) and by proposing digital tools for more access to virtual care, information-sharing, and implementing online appointment booking.

PHIPA will be updated to give patients the right to digitally access their own information and get a complete view of their records. As it stands, patients have the right to their records, but the method is often paper-based, slow and expensive. A digital requirement would force providers to give patients an online option. The Personal Health Information Protection Act will also be changed to introduce stricter provisions for any individual or organization that misuses personal health information.

Ontario Health Teams Continue to Move Forward

The Ministry provided an update yesterday on the progress of Ontario Health Teams. Consistent with the Ministry’s messaging since the summer, the first cohort of Ontario Health Teams will be announced in late-November 2019.

The new key dates to watch include:

  • First set of Ontario Health Teams are identified: Late-November 2019
  • Next deadline for self-assessment submissions: December 4, 2019
  • Deadline for in-development progress reports: January 2020
  • Next invitation for full application submissions: March 2020

In Development teams will now be asked to demonstrate their ability to move to the full application stage by preparing progress reports for submission to the Ministry in January 2020. It’s the first time the government has mentioned a “progress report” for these teams. It is also worthy to note that the Ministry is trying to maintain control over who submits a full application by stating that a next group of teams will be invited to submit full applications.

Ontario Health Integration

Ontario Health is moving forward with the integration of five agencies: Cancer Care Ontario, Health Quality Ontario, eHealth Ontario, Health Shared Services Ontario and HealthForceOntario Marketing and Recruitment Agency. The Trillium Gift of Life Network will transfer into Ontario Health later to ensure there will be no disruption to patients and families involved with organ and tissue donation. The official merger will take place on December 2, 2019.

Concurrently, Ontario is overseeing the operational reorganization of the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) into five interim and transitional geographical regions. These regions are based on the existing LHIN geographic boundaries, rather than redrawing any boundaries or regions. Notably, the Toronto Region includes only the Toronto Central LHIN and has not been expanded to include other parts of the GTA. At least two Ontario Health Teams with Toronto in their name are likely to be included in the Central region rather than Toronto.

The Ministry is adamant that all of these changes will not impact patient care, contracts, delivery of home and community care and long-term care placement. The offices are expected to eventually transfer certain LHIN functions, including home and community care, to the OHTs.