Government and policy
Infoway may start investing in
physician IT, CMAJ reports
OTTAWA – The Canadian Medical
Association Journal speculates that 50% of the $500 million awarded to
Canada Health Infoway in Ottawa’s January budget is earmarked for
computerizing physician practices. For its part, Infoway says it is
currently working on an investment strategy for the new tranche of
In an assessment of the budget and its package of deficit spending
that’s designed to stimulate the economy, the CMAJ noted that
physicians are big winners: “Without question, the $500-million outlay
for the Canada Health Infoway is the single measure that could
theoretically have the greatest impact on physicians and the health
community,” said the journal, in a January 28 response to the budget.
“The previous $1.6 billion that the independent, not-for-profit
corporation had received was largely aimed at large electronic systems
such as drug information and lab information networks within hospitals.
But Finance officials said at least half of the new monies are intended
for projects aimed at getting individual physicians to start keeping
electronic health records for their patients.”
“The goal is to have 50% of all Canadians with electronic health records
by the end of 2010,” said one official. Although program details are
sparse and must still be ironed out with the provinces, it is expected
physicians will eventually receive some measure of direct financial aid
to purchase electronic equipment or hire staff that would be necessary
as part of any move toward electronic record keeping.
That would be a major shift in direction for physician IT programs
across Canada, as Infoway hasn’t in the past funded the computerization
of physician practices. Until now, all subsidized programs have been
financed by provincial programs, such as PITO in British Columbia and
POSP in Alberta.
In a related measure, the budget introduced a temporary 100% Capital
Cost Allowance Rate for computer hardware and systems software acquired
before February 1, 2011, for which physicians would be eligible. The
move is projected to cost the government $340 million in the coming
fiscal year and $355 million in 2010/11.
On another front, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. received a whopping
increase for the second consecutive year. Its budget was topped up by
$351 million, with federal officials saying a “small portion” of that is
aimed at assessing how the lifetime of the aging National Research
Reactor might be extended beyond 2011 to ensure some measure of domestic
medical isotope supply in the wake of its recent shutdown and the
cancellation of its replacement, the flawed Multipurpose Applied Physics
Lattice Experiment reactors.
Interestingly, the Canada Foundation for Innovation receives $150
million to top up its current “Leading Edge and New Initiatives Funds
Competition,” while $600 million has been set aside for a new research
infrastructure competition to be established by 2011, on the provisos
that the monies are spent in areas deemed a “priority” by the federal
industry minister and that the foundation develops a new strategic plan.
The CFI has been a huge source of funds for many leading-edge research
initiatives in Canada’s academic and research-oriented hospitals,
especially in the areas of Diagnostic Imaging and Surgical technology.
However, the budgets for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of
Canada will be reduced by an aggregate $167.8 million over the next 3
years. Again, no details were provided but the department and agency
will take a $42.7 million hit in the coming fiscal year, $52.9 million
cut in 2010/11 and $72.2 million cut in 2011/12.