01/29/2013 04:24 EST | Updated 03/31/2013 05:12 EDT

Conservatives want to scrap eHealth but still develop electronic medical records

TORONTO - The Progressive Conservatives would phase out eHealth Ontario and put health professionals in charge of developing electronic medical records, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said Tuesday.

"EHealth in its current form has been a disaster," Hudak told reporters.

"The old bureaucracy at eHealth, you won't recognize, you won't see that old eHealth anymore."

The agency was the centre of what the Tories called a "billion-dollar boondoggle" in 2009 over untendered contracts and expense abuses by well-paid consultants, and has doubled spending since then but still hasn't developed electronic health records, added Hudak.

"To date the Liberal government has thrown $2 billion down the drain with next to nothing to show for it," he said.

"We want to see transformational change when it comes to eHealth so we actually deliver on health records that patients can count on, and pharmacists and doctors and nurses in hospitals can actually work with."

EHealth questioned Hudak's numbers and said they don't know where he got the $2-billion figure from.

The government "must stop throwing good money after bad" and give doctors, pharmacists and hospitals control of the project to find a new way to develop electronic health records, said Hudak.

"We actually are going to hand the decision-making over to health professionals to run that board, no more top-down bureaucracy with political appointees that have wasted money," he said.

The Liberal government pointed out doctors are already involved in the development of electronic medical records that they would use for their patients.

Hudak also wants the government to use off-the-shelf and open-source software instead of "reinventing the wheel" as Ontario develops electronic records.

"Let them use what's already out there and save taxpayers money," he said.

Incoming premier Kathleen Wynne said electronic health records were extremely important, and suggested she wouldn't want to close down eHealth.

"If we are going to continue to make decisions based on evidence, if we are going to provide better service to the people of Ontario in health care, we have got to have electronic connectivity," said Wynne. "We have got to have an increase in the electronic records."

The New Democrats pointed out that it was the Conservatives who set up an agency called Smart Systems to create electronic health records — which the Liberals later scrapped and renamed eHealth.

"Now they're saying if they come back into power they would scrap eHealth and develop what, Smart Systems Two?" wondered NDP health critic France Gelinas.

The Tories also want an audit to see how the funds were spent after the auditor general found in 2009 that the agency had spent $1 billion with little to show for it.

"We're going to do a value for money audit to see where the last billion dollars went on top of the $1 billion the auditor general already said was wasted at eHealth," said Hudak.

"The eHealth mess shows us that the Liberals' approach – pouring a vat of borrowed money on every health-care challenge – is not delivering results."

The Liberal health minister in 2009, David Caplan, was forced to resign following the auditor's report into the original scandal over untendered contracts and expense abuses at eHealth.