Ontario's political parties should not let the spectre of the eHealth scandal stop them from making electronic health records an election priority, the Ontario Medical Association said Wednesday.
"We've got to move past eHealth," said president Dr. Stewart Kennedy.
"There is concern probably from the political parties, but we're here to deliver care to patients, and that's more important than a political message."
Dr. Kennedy expressed concern that none of the political parties have so far made electronic records part of their platform ahead of the Oct. 6 election, saying he'd like to ensure that there will be funds for the program in any upcoming budgets.
"We have made significant progress over the past eight to 10 years with the electronic medical records ... but we have a lot more work to do," he said.
"There's so many cost savings that can be done because of duplication of services throughout Ontario."
EHealth was at the centre of a scandal that saw millions of dollars given to consultants with ties to the Liberal government in the form of untendered contracts in 2009, as well as abuses of expense accounts at the agency.
It all culminated with the resignation of then-health minister David Caplan, and the agency has since been working to rebuild under new management.
Still, eHealth continues to cause headaches for the governing Liberals, most recently over bonus pay for hundreds of bureaucrats at the agency despite a two-year wage freeze for public sector workers.
The merit pay and bonuses were later revoked, in what Health Minister Deb Matthews called a "real culture shift" at the agency.
According to the government, there are currently six million people in Ontario who have access to electronic medical records, and that's expected to increase to nine million by 2012.
EHealth also manages other programs, including the emergency image transfer system, which allows patients to have X-rays or CT scans where they are instead of having to travel to see a specialist.
The specialist can access the scans electronically, potentially saving a patient a trip to a medical centre in a hub such as Toronto.
That program, said the health ministry, has saved the government $50-million so far.
The Liberals have yet to unveil their platform, but have said they are committed to bringing health records online.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath didn't include electronic health records in her platform, but said Wednesday her party supported the system, adding it would have been in place years ago if the government hadn't mismanaged its implementation.
"It's unfortunate that our government here in Ontario has fumbled the ball so badly with eHealth records," she said.
Progressive Conservative critic Christine Elliott said her party considered bringing health records online "the single most important thing that we can do in health care."
"It is something that really needs leadership, and despite spending hundreds of millions on it over eight years the Liberals still haven't been able to deliver on it," she said.
"We would make it a priority."