Health care workers welcomed the government's budget investments in electronic health and medical records but said it missed an opportunity to increase the supply of health providers.

The 2009 federal budget included few changes to health care spending, but it did earmark $500 million for Canada Health Infoway, a non-profit organization working with governments and health care providers to expand the use of electronic health records.

The Canadian Medical Association had called for investments in health infrastructure such as upgrading health facilities, investing in electronic medical records and modernizing hospital information systems.

The budget announcement for electronic health records "will lead to better, more efficient care and will help Canada shake off its laggard status," compared to other countries, the CMA said.

In a pre-budget submission to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the group said its research suggested that a $225-million federal investment, matched by provincial-territorial funds, would create 5,000 new jobs over the next two years.

But CMA President Dr. Robert Ouellet said the group is concerned the federal government has not fulfilled its election commitment to address Canada's doctor shortage.

The group aims for Canada to become self-sufficient in the number of physicians the country produces. To that end, the CMA has urged the federal government to fund more postgraduate training positions.

Aboriginal health

Both Ouellet and Wendy Fucile, president of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), said they were pleased the budget earmarked $305 million for improving health outcomes for First Nations and Inuit patients.

The RNAO said the federal budget deserved marks for spending on infrastructure projects, allocating $2 billion for social housing and including measures to help low income families. But it said the government missed an opportunity to ensure an adequate supply of nurses and other health providers to care for Canadians.

Fucile also called for a national housing strategy, a commitment to child care spaces, a commitment to use federal funding power to withhold health transfers when provinces violate the Canada Health Act and a national, publicly funded pharmacare program covering essential drugs.

The Canadian Healthcare Association (CHA) also said it was pleased with the funds for Canada's aboriginal population and the implementation of electronic health records.

But the group said Tuesday it was concerned the infrastructure funds may not be available to the health sector.

"The aging of Canada's health infrastructure has posed increasing problems in terms of patient safety, overcrowding and wait times issues," said CHA President and CEO Pamela Fralick. "It’s not yet clear that health facilities can benefit from today’s announcements."