Medical Databases and Super Hospitals
Christopher C. Goodfellow
February 4 1999

One the eve of the First Ministers Conference in Ottawa, an interesting balloon has been floated about the creation of a national medical records registry to store medical records on each and every Canadian.

Thanks but no thanks. Its a bad idea from Big Government and it is an intrusion into the personal lives of Canadians that is unacceptable.

First and foremost is the security issue. There is absolutely no way this information can be secured. If I understand the reports correctly, any doctor could retrieve the medical records on any Canadian through an interlinked online network . If this is what is proposed, it is totally unacceptable as passwords will eventually make their way around to banks and insurance companies and anyone else curious about our lives and the state of our health. This is not like other government databases that can be controlled to a much greater extent as one assumes it is only government employees themselves that can get access to such records as tax and auto registrations, but even these records have been compromised as we all know. As the number of users of a system increases the security issues just become unmanageable.

It is commonplace for nurses and doctors to access medical files in a hospital and medical centres such as CLSC's. Many records are already compromised by private investigators who work for insurance companies, credit bureaus and banks and who are not above using payments to obtain records through these channels. A super database would be a feasting ground for those that wish to intrude even further into the lives of Canadians. Of all records on Canadian citizens, their private medical records are the most private of all. There are many who do not wish medical or psychological problems and diagnoses disclosed to any but their own doctor and perhaps a very limited circle of specialists.

It is an intrusion of the first order into private lives and if the government has no right in our bedrooms they certainly have no right in our medical records. The justifications being proposed such as better tracking of the health care system and controlling costs speak to the exact opposite of what is needed to get our health care system operating properly and efficiently. We need less bigness and a whole lot more of smallness.

While it is true many medical records are kept in file cabinets and much of this information could be stored in electronic databases which I wholeheartedly support, these records should be stored in local networks not accessible to the outside. If indeed I wish my medical records transferred to a doctor elsewhere, I could order the file transferred electronically.

So if the government wishes to get involved in this whole area, it can get involved by writing and issuing a protocol for the storage of medical files electronically. That should take all of a month and perhaps a team of six consultants and perhaps half a million dollars. But it shouldn't be allowed to proceed to spend hundreds of millions and build a dedicated network to link databases in a fashion that compromises our personal information.

We don't need superhospitals either. We need smaller, better managed institutions with a whole lot less administration and a whole lot more efficiency. This starts with the exact opposite management approach than is present in the conventional wisdom. Bigger government does nothing better except to create more bureaucracy and ineffciency and this is what has plagued and brought down our present medical system. We need to step back and ask how we can deliver the best health care to Canadians with the least cost and it starts with a fresh approach...a degree of privatization and competition because this is the only approach that encourages excellence.

This doesn't mean an abandonment of universal health care. What is does mean is creating a functioning system that allows consumers to make a choice using a form of voucher that will reward those that deliver superior and efficient services and penalize those that operate in a shoddy inefficient fashion.

Canadians must demand changes in the approach to the delivery of all public services. For too long we have accepted the conventional wisdom that huge bureaucracies can deliver the goods in health care and education and it just isn't working. Big isn't better and huge medical databases or huge "super hospitals" do not mean more efficiency. Just the opposite and we would be well advised as taxpayers and voters to demand better approaches.

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