Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged that continued troubles at eHealth Ontario led to a push to scrap its registry to help diabetic patients — once a cornerstone of the province’s push for electronic health records.
“It’s a complicated field,” the premier said Monday following Torstar News Service’s revelation Saturday that the board of eHealth is recommending Health Minister Deb Matthews axe the $46.2-million registry because it has been eclipsed by new technology.
“Obviously there were some particular challenges associated with this technology and the amount of time that it was taking,” McGuinty added near Pearson International Airport, where he was touring construction of the airport rail line to downtown.
“It’s been demonstrated throughout the world there are always challenges when it comes to rolling out an electronic health-records system.”
Questions about the registry have been simmering for years at eHealth, which was plagued by a damaging 2009 scandal in which consultants paid as much as $3,000 a day were expensing tea and cookie breaks while working toward a 2015 deadline to have electronic health records for all Ontarians.
At Queen’s Park, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the revelations in the Star are “just another sad story coming out of the Ministry of Health and eHealth Ontario.”
“It wasn’t too long ago that the McGuinty government was boasting about their diabetes registry as a flagship program and now it’s sinking fast,” Hudak told reporters Monday.
“It troubles me that we’ve put about $2 billion into eHealth with next to nothing to show for it,” he said.
“It’s also an indication that this government is adrift. It’s become too big and it can’t keep track of the basics.”
McGuinty, whose government weathered the previous eHealth storm, said about 9 million Ontarians now have electronic health records — up from 700,000 when the Liberals took power in 2003.
“We’ve come a long way,” he added, insisting the 2015 deadline will still be met.
Sources told the Star eHealth’s board of directors made the decision to scrap the registry — being developed by CGI Group Inc. — on Sept. 5.
While CGI has put between $10 million and $15 million into the registry’s development, its contract with the government calls for cash-on-delivery of a satisfactory product.
Matthews and McGuinty said that means taxpayers are not on the hook for any costs.
“These are costs that are borne exclusively by the private sector partner,” McGuinty said.
NDP health critic France Gélinas (Nickel Belt) said only time will tell if the eHealth deal with CGI protects taxpayers as promised.
“It’s everybody’s guess whether it’s bulletproof,” said Gélinas. “I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t end up in front of the courts.”
CGI could not be reached for comment. Matthews’ office would not speculate on the possibility of a lawsuit or say when the final decision on scrapping the registry might come.