Catherine Fife MPP, Waterloo

Government of Ontario

Privatization of Patient Medical Records Would Compromise Confidentiality

Published on October 17, 2016

Ms. Catherine Fife: My question is to the Premier. Is the government planning to privatize eHealth and Ontario’s digital health assets?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: There is no possibility of the sale or the commercial use of people’s health information. We’ve been very, very clear about that. The minister has said that. We’re looking to improve the health care and service that patients receive as part of a digital strategy moving forward.

The Minister of Health wrote to Ed Clark seeking expert advice to assess the value of Ontario’s digital health system and program: its assets and all the related intellectual property and the infrastructure in which we have invested over years.

I don’t know if the member opposite knows, but the mandate of eHealth Ontario expires at the end of 2017. We believe that we’ve been presented with an opportunity to determine the result of the investments that have been made and to determine if there are changes that need to be made and what the value of those investments has produced.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Catherine Fife: And yet the Minister of Health wrote to Ed Clark last week asking him to look at eHealth specifically because of his experience in valuing public and private assets.

Let’s be honest: His experience in valuing public assets means selling public assets. After all, in 2014, when the Premier asked Mr. Clark to maximize the value of government business enterprises, we know that that was a public-relations-friendly way of saying, “Sell off Hydro One.”

Is this Premier looking for a way to hide a Liberal plan to privatize digital health assets?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: No. No, Mr. Speaker, and I will say that Canada Health Infoway has estimated roughly $1 billion in annual benefits to Ontario as a result of the investments that have been made in eHealth Ontario and almost $6 billion in cumulative benefits since 2007.

So, Mr. Speaker, it’s true that the Minister of Health has asked Ed Clark, because of his experience, to do an assessment of the results of those investments. I think it’s responsible, as eHealth reaches the end of its mandate in 2017, that we understand the value of those investments and we look at whether there is a way to understand the value of those digital assets and move towards a new vision for digital health in Ontario.

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite lives in the Waterloo region. She knows how fast technology changes. She knows how important it is that we keep up and make the best decisions on this digital strategy. That’s what this assessment is about.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary.

Ms. Catherine Fife: The people in Waterloo region also know how high their energy costs are for sure, Premier.

On October 21, 2015, the Premier stood right there in her place and she said, “We’re not selling off the assets.” Less than a month later, Ed Clark said it was a “bold step” and showed “political courage” to sell Hydro One.

This is why people have a hard time believing that this Premier isn’t planning to spring another fall surprise on the people of Ontario. Should Ontarians be getting ready for another Liberal sell-off?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: No, Mr. Speaker. As I said, the Minister of Health has asked Ed Clark to do an assessment of eHealth Ontario in much the way—I will use the example of the LCBO, Mr. Speaker. Ed Clark did an assessment of the LCBO. There are changes that are being made to the liquor laws in this province. There are changes that have come about as a result of the work that Ed Clark did. But there is no sell-off of that asset.

So, Mr. Speaker, we’re going to look at eHealth. We’re going to look at the work that’s been done and look at the investments that have been made and what the results are, and understand how we move forward to make sure that people in this province have the best digital health strategy possible. They deserve that. We need to keep up. We need to make sure that we leverage all of the technology that is available to people in the 21st century and make sure it works for the people of the province and their health care.

Ms. Catherine Fife: Again to the Premier, Mr. Speaker: There’s a big difference between the LCBO and people’s medical records in the province of Ontario.

It’s not just New Democrats that have these concerns. On Thursday, the Ontario Medical Association wrote to Ed Clark, saying, “We are particularly concerned to read in media reports that the government may be seeking to monetize this data-gathering ability for profit.”

Will the government rule out privatizing people’s confidential medical records?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I’m very pleased. I saw the letter from Virginia Walley, and I’m very pleased that the OMA agrees with us that patient information is not and will not and never should be up for sale. I think that that’s a fundamental and a given that we should all agree to in this House.

But at the same time, there has been a huge investment in e-health. We know, from an initial report from Canada Health Infoway, that $1 billion in annual benefits to Ontario as a result of the investments that have been made and almost $6 billion in cumulative benefits since 2007—so we need to make sure that we understand the value of what has been produced because of those investments. We need to understand how we can move forward to provide the best digital health service, the best digital strategy for the people of Ontario. That’s the work that we’re doing.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Catherine Fife: You cannot blame the people of this province for having serious trust issues when this government starts talking about privatization. It’s not just New Democrats. It’s also the Ontario Health Coalition that has concerns. After reading the minister’s letter, the coalition said that they are “deeply concerned that the bias of this ‘valuation’ exercise will be towards for-profit privatization.” They say, “The privatization of patient records puts the confidentiality of patient records in jeopardy of being compromised.”

Will the government rule out privatization of medical records and not go back on your word later on?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Mr. Speaker, I’ve done that. I have ruled that out. I’ve said that we agree with the member opposite, that patient information, people’s health information, should never be compromised. We agree with the OMA that patient information should not be up for sale.

At the same time, there may be opportunities to partner or work with others in medical, hospital and related sectors to build on the assets that have been created by the investments that have been made by the people of Ontario and find ways to serve people and patients even better.

We have a minister in government, the Minister of Advanced Education, who has responsibility for a digital strategy government-wide. We want to make sure that everything we’re doing in the health care sector provides the best digital strategy, the best digital service, and the most efficient one for the people of Ontario in their health care.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary?

Ms. Catherine Fife: This government also said that they would not sell off Hydro One, and they went ahead and did that as well.

It’s not just doctors and the health coalition. Hospital workers say that “health records are confidential, containing information that should not be plucked for its potential asset value to the provincial Liberal government.”

The Premier doesn’t have a mandate to privatize health records from Ontarians. It’s clear that doctors are worried, health care workers and advocates are worried, and hospital workers are worried, and they have good reason to be worried. Who has given this Premier a mandate to privatize digital health care in the province of Ontario?

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister responsible for digital government.

Hon. Deborah Matthews: Let me be abundantly clear: eHealth is not for sale. Personal health information is not and will not be for sale.

But let’s take this opportunity to see the progress that has been made as a result of eHealth. A decade ago, only 770,000 Ontarians had access to EMRs; now it’s over 10 million. Trauma patients have access to neurosurgery 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Telemedicine and remote clinical consultations are over half a million each year. People are getting the care they need where they live, not where the physician is, where the specialist is. And OLIS: almost three billion lab results for 9.5 million Ontarians.

E-health has made a profound difference in health care and we need to make sure we’re doing it to its max.