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Government & Policy

$100 million public health surveillance strategy

MONTREAL – Canada Health Infoway has announced the approval of an investment strategy providing a total of $100 million for the enhancement of pan-Canadian public health surveillance.

The aim is to help public health professionals better detect and respond to outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

“Communicable disease surveillance is a priority of critical importance for the safety of all Canadians,” said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. “I am very pleased that Canada Health Infoway is proceeding to invest the funds provided by the federal government to enhance public health surveillance in Canada. This investment will help improve the capacity of public health professionals to respond to public health threats and better prepare for the future.”

The federal government asked Infoway to take on the task of facilitating development of surveillance solutions in partnership with the provinces and territories. This was due to public concern about the ability of public health authorities to deal with emerging communicable disease threats, such as the recent SARS outbreak.

The Public Health Surveillance Strategy will focus on the management of communicable diseases, major outbreaks and immunization programs, enhance capacity to provide health alerts and ensure effective and efficient data and reports are produced. Common or “interoperable” technology solutions will be adopted to facilitate data sharing while respecting federal, provincial and territorial privacy legislation.

Richard Alvarez (pictured at left), Infoway’s President and CEO, said, “Infoway will be working with its partners in the provinces and territories to evolve Public Health Surveillance Solutions that will provide valuable assistance to healthcare professionals.”

One of the first steps taken to carry out Infoway’s Public Health mandate was the formation of the Pan-Canadian Public Health Communicable Disease Surveillance and Management Steering Committee. This committee includes both senior public health decision-makers and Chief Information Officers from all federal, provincial and territorial Ministries of Health, as well as certain major national stakeholder organizations.

The Steering Committee and its various working groups will play a key role in ensuring that public health stakeholders’ interests are fully reflected in the pan-Canadian surveillance solution produced by the program, and how it is implemented in the provinces and territories.

Infoway is currently working with the federal, provincial and territorial governments to implement electronic healthcare systems that will result in the establishment of a pan-Canadian electronic health record for all Canadians.

Integrating the Public Health Surveillance Solution with the electronic health record will provide it with access to valuable data, such as laboratory results and demographic information, which can help track outbreaks and provide clues to controlling them.

To achieve this integration, Infoway will work collaboratively with the provinces and territories to develop standards and technical specifications for linking the Public Health Surveillance Solutions and the electronic health record.

The Public Health Surveillance investment strategy is based on studies done to assess current public health surveillance needs. As a first step in implementing this investment strategy, Infoway will continue working with the British Columbia Ministry of Health Services to produce the following results by April 2005:

• A comprehensive analysis of the functional and technical requirements related to each module of the new Public Health Surveillance Solutions;

• An analysis of the Integrated Public Health Information System (i-PHIS) maintained by the Public Health Agency of Canada to determine which of its modules can be adapted to the new public health surveillance solution; and

• A specification of which required modules of the solution would be custom developed, based on commercially available software products and existing public sector systems.

Following analysis of results, more detailed design and integration work and implementation planning of the solution in individual Canadian provinces and territories is scheduled to begin during the 2005-06fiscal year.

Canada Health Infoway’s mission is to accelerate the development of compatible electronic health information systems across Canada. These systems provide healthcare professionals with rapid access to complete and accurate patient information, enabling better decisions about treatment and diagnosis.

Infoway expects to have $260 million committed to approximately 100 projects in every Canadian province and territory by the end of March 2005.