British Columbia

B.C. government steps in on problem-plagued hospital IT project

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the previous Liberal government backed projects that were too big and too expensive, without input from the health professionals who use them.

Health minister says hospital IT projects in Nanaimo, Vancouver too big, too expensive

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the IHealth project became 'the source of intense division in Nanaimo.' (Michael McArthur/CBC)

British Columbia's health minister blames the previous B.C. Liberal government for a mismanaged and over-budget paperless records project at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, as well as problems with a similar project in Vancouver.

Adrian Dix says he will appoint a mediator to help broker a solution for the $230 million IHealth digital records system, following the release of a critical report by Ernst and Young last week.

The report found half of doctors and nurses believe the $230 million platform is unsafe and even more said it reduced their productivity.

"Seventy-three per cent of doctors and 66 per cent of nurses said their productivity had been reduced by a system that was supposed to improve productivity. That's a pretty significant drop," Dix told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

He said Vancouver Coastal Health's Clinical Systems Transformations Project and other major IT projects launched by the previous Liberal govern have the same fundamental problem as Nanaimo's IHealth project.

The IHealth workstations on wheels allow doctors and nurses to put patient information directly into an electronic health record. (Island Health)

"They spend way too much money they put forward on projects that are too big," Dix said. "They have no way of dealing with problems when they started to go wrong, and they didn't involve the people who had actually used them enough."

In December 2017, Dix announced the appointment of former London Drugs CEO Wynne Powell to take over as chair of the Vancouver-area IT project, which is about $130 million over its $842 million budget.

Dix said despite the missteps to date, everyone in the health system agrees the move to electronic health records must go ahead. 

"I don't accept the idea that just because it's hard we can't do it," he said. However, IHealth must be fixed before it's rolled out to the rest of Vancouver Island's hospitals.

The appointment of a mediator for the Nanaimo IHealth project will make Island Health a stakeholder rather than the decision-maker on finding an IHealth solution, along with doctors, nurses and other health professionals, Dix said.

Minister and deputy to be 'tie-breakers'

He did not rule out becoming directly involved, saying Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown and himself will be "tie-breakers" if needed.

The Ernst and Young report found the IHealth project is about $54 million over budget.

"It also said that we have to change the way we do business," Dix said. "I think the disconnect between those who have to use the system and the decision makers was large here and you can see that reflected in almost every page of the report."

Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier, the Opposition health critic, was out of the country and not available to respond to Dix's comments, according to the spokesperson for the Liberal caucus. 

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