The federal government recently offered the provinces a sweet deal: $196.1-billion in new health dollars over the next 10 years, with virtually no strings attached.
The premiers were asking for an additional $28-billion a year, with a 5-per-cent escalator. They didn’t get that – and no one reasonably thought they would – but still managed to squeeze more than $19-billion a year out of the feds.
Whether it will result in better health for Canadians is debatable. But it’s a pretty good haul, by any measure.
Still, some provincial leaders, for their own political purposes, are determined to always portray Ottawa as the bad guy.
Cue premiers Scott Moe of Saskatchewan and Danielle Smith of Alberta, and their vow to fight the “digital ID.”
In recent days, both Western premiers have warned ominously that the health deal could lead to the creation of a “digital identification” for each Canadian, and vowed they will not share any of their citizens’ “private health information” with the federal government.
These concerns, apparently, stem from some fairly innocuous wording in the federal offer to the provinces – a commitment to “modernizing the health care system with standardized information and digital tools.”
But let’s be clear: Increases in the Canada Health Transfer are not contingent on some nefarious “digital ID.” Nor will Canadians’ personal health information be shared with politicians, bureaucrats or the public.
The tough talk from premiers Mr. Moe and Ms. Smith may play well to their bases and the far-right media, but it’s little more than tilting at windmills.
Health records now exist, in various forms, in every province – even Saskatchewan and Alberta.
In fact, Alberta has one of the best systems of digital health-record keeping in the country, one that should be a model for other provinces.
What Ottawa wants to do is improve interoperability – the ability of records to be shared between health institutions, regardless of where they are located in the country.
This would benefit patients greatly.
If an Albertan has a heart attack and is hospitalized in Ontario, physicians should have access to their records.
Another initiative Ottawa wants to encourage in the proposed health deals is the tracking of health workers like nurses and physicians, along with the creation of comparable health indicators.
For example, how long do you wait for a hip replacement? Right now, that’s not necessarily measured the same way from province to province. Doing so would allow comparisons and, presumably, improvements. Good data are essential for good research, and good policy.
But health data are anonymized. No one is going to know that Bob from Regina waited eight months for a new hip.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information and Infoway will together receive an additional $505-million over five years to do this data improvement work, which is long overdue. And, by the way, both Alberta and Saskatchewan share health records with both these organizations now, as they should.
What’s disturbing about Mr. Moe and Ms. Smith’s faux outrage is the dog-whistle aspect of it all.
The proposed health accords do not, in any way, promote the notion of a digital ID, but suggesting they do appeals to the conspiracy theorists.
In their parallel universe, the World Economic Forum and their acolytes (Justin Trudeau, the Liberal government, etc.) want to create a digital ID for all citizens with the goal of controlling every aspect of their lives.
We heard similarly ridiculous claims about “vaccine passports.” And who can forget the paranoid rantings about COVID-19 vaccines containing 5G microchips that can be used to track people?
The reality is that virtually all of us live increasingly in a digital world, a trend accelerated by the pandemic.
Citizens should be able to interact with government agencies virtually – including health care institutions – and that takes planning and structural change. Ottawa has published a “Digital Ambition” framework, and there’s nothing Kafkaesque about it.
In medicine, health data is increasingly important. Personalized medicine and AI-assisted medicine require countless bytes of information to be analyzed in a constant feedback loop to improve care both individually and collectively.
We should be encouraging, not discouraging, better use of health data – with appropriate safeguards, of course.
Creating straw-man arguments about digital tracking does not improve health care. Quite the contrary.
But the ultimate irony may be that these quixotic battles are being played out largely on social-media platforms, largely owned by companies that shamelessly and intrusively track people’s digital travels in a way no government would dare.