How can we make EHRs a hot issue in the 2012 elections? Let's ask Canada

When you bring up the difference in the U.S. and Canadian healthcare systems, the discussion often centers on how care is (or isn't) funded; the costs of prescriptions drugs and the long waits in the U.S. for certain medical procedures. But one area seems to keep both countries on the same wave-length: interest in electronic health records (EHRs). 

"If we wish to measure quality, measure outcomes, reduce duplication of tests and diagnostics--if we want to have a system, we need an electronic health system," Stewart Kennedy, president of Infoway, Canada's version of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology, said recently. "Not only will a fully integrated system support increased quality of care, but it will also support the broader changes to the health care system that are necessary."

Sound familiar? But get this: EHRs could even become a hot political issue in the Great White North.

More than 6 million patients are covered by individual EHRs in Canada's most populated province of Ontario. That’s nearly half the population, given that Ontario's has 13 million people. But the province still falls short when it comes to boasting a fully integrated EHR system in which physicians, hospitals, laboratories and pharmacies can seamlessly communicate with each other.

With no health information exchanges available, the OMA is calling on political parties to make EHRs a priority in the October provincial elections. OMA wants party leaders to make "a firm commitment" to work with Ontario's physicians and other health care practitioners to develop a plan that ensures more patients in the province have an EHR--and a fully integrated system that connects all providers, institutions and patients.

Canada seems to have a lot of lessons on health IT and EHR use that it could share with the U.S. For starters, let's find out how to make EHRs a hot issue in our own big elections next year. -Janice