In his review of patient safety issues in the Canadian healthcare system, Dr. Matthew Morgan states that "coordinated national EHR initiatives will cost less, save lives and prevent harm when compared to the status quo." Canada Health Infoway is spearheading this initiative in Canada. Infoway's No. 1 guiding principle for investment is that projects undertaken must "enhance the quality of patient care, healthcare services and patient safety." They must also support the development and adoption of pan-Canadian interoperable EHR solutions. Infoway is working in seven major areas to improve electronic access to accurate and timely health information in order to reduce errors, facilitate accurate diagnoses and speed treatment. These areas include the building blocks of the EHR: infostructure, registries, digital imaging systems, and drug and laboratory information systems. Infoway is also developing and expanding telehealth networks to increase the scope of the Canadian healthcare system. Infoway was recently mandated to develop a public health surveillance system for infectious diseases to give healthcare providers a tool for tracking and managing disease outbreaks in the Canadian population. These systems will improve safety, quality, accessibility, cost-efficiency and the sustainability of the healthcare system. Patient safety is a cornerstone of Infoway's activities.
"Are there enough health professionals in Canada, and will they be there when I need them? " Answers to these two seemingly simple questions cover a variety of complex and interrelated factors that are not fully understood, as the report about Canada's Healthcare Providers (CIHI 2001) makes clear. The report appears at a time when Canadian political leaders, healthcare organizations, caregivers and others involved with the healthcare system are looking for creative solutions to the human resources challenges facing the health system. Many of the issues are not new; over the last 50 years they have been raised by various groups and government commissions. But there is a sense of urgency today as options for renewing and sustaining Canada's health system are actively being explored. This essay offers highlights from the report, providing a portrait of what is known (and not known) about the people who work in healthcare across the country. It makes clear that whether there are (or are not) enough healthcare providers is not simply a question of numbers of health professionals. From changes in health and healthcare to shifts in the worklife and practice patterns of professionals, a better understanding of the wide range of factors affecting healthcare providers is essential to further the important debates taking place.