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PEI announces funding for eHealth centre

SUMMERSIDE, PEI – The province of Prince Edward Island has announced a $7 million investment in a new eHealth centre, to be located in Summerside. The facility will be housed in the historic Holman building, close to the waterfront, with the purpose of testing the interoperability of computerized health systems, identifying trouble-spots and creating solutions.

The investment is part of $200 million program to kick-start the biosciences industry in the province. The eHealth centre will build on the success of Carestream Health, which already operates its international R&D centre for Radiological Information Systems (RIS) out of the Holman building.

While relatively low-profile to date, the PEI-based Carestream Health development centre has emerged as a major success story for the company, winning high-profile deals around the world – such as the contract to supply all health trusts in Scotland with RIS and a recent agreement to supply the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, Calif., with a new RIS.

Overall, it currently supports 600 radiological information systems around the world from its centre in Summerside.

However, the success of the centre will hinge on attracting other major companies to the site, creating a cluster of eHealth expertise. “We know we’re going to have to bring other companies here,” said Michael Mayne (pictured), deputy minister of bioscience and innovation for the government of Prince Edward Island.

Preliminary discussions have already begun with companies such as Sun Microsystems and Bell Aliant.

Mayne said there is not yet a director for the centre, which is expected to open its doors in 2009, but the intent is to bring in a leader from the private sector.

The move to open an interoperability testing centre comes on the heels of a similar effort in Toronto. Called the eHealth Collaboratory, it was launched with great fanfare in 2006, but appears to have achieved little since that time.

That may very well leave the door open for a new centre in Summerside. (Vancouver Coastal Health is funding a new centre, called the PROOF lab, in Vancouver, but it is focusing on primary care Electronic Medical Record systems.)

To be sure, the eHealth centre in Summerside will face challenges, including its perceived remoteness.

Mayne countered that geography shouldn’t be an obstacle, as many successful enterprises have thrived in unlikely locations. For example, the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., is located on the periphery, but has become a world-leading medical centre, nonetheless. “The Mayo started in the middle of a cornfield,” said Mayne. “Now, it’s one of the world’s top medical centres and has several other facilities, as well.”

He also noted that in an era of high-capacity Internet and satellite for voice and data, location is not as much of a problem – as evidenced by the success of Carestream Health. Indeed, advanced communication technologies have enabled Carestream Health to provide much of its ongoing service and support at a distance from customers. That model could be used, similarly, to test eHealth applications in hospitals and health regions across Canada.

Companies and organizations that partner with the eHealth centre will be expected to contribute resources, including personnel with expertise. The facility also plans to draw computer scientists from the University of Prince Edward Island, in nearby Charlottetown, as well as from other Maritime universities.