Quebec chooses American firm Epic to create new digital health system

By The Canadian Press

MONTREAL – Quebec has chosen Wisconsin-based Epic Systems Corporation to build the infrastructure for its ambitious digital health record project. The first phase of the health network’s digital transition will be rolled out as a pilot project in two regions as early as 2024.

Health Minister Christian Dubé revealed this information Wednesday afternoon during an exchange with Liberal MNA Michelle Setlakwe as part of the detailed study of Bill 15 on health network reform.

“The contracting process is underway right now,” he said, before adding that “it’s about to be finalized.”

“For reasons of implementation, language, etc., we have chosen Epic”, the Minister went on to reveal.

Asked for further details by The Canadian Press, the Minister of Health’s office indicated that an announcement would be made this Friday by way of a press release.

In a written statement attributed to Minister Dubé, he said he was “very pleased” with the announcement, which marks “a major step forward in fulfilling our commitments and in our efforts to make the healthcare system more efficient”.

A second U.S. owned company, Cerner Canada ULC, was also in the running. Both firms were selected following an initial round of bidding, to which six potential suppliers responded.

According to Dubé, the Ministry is currently carrying out the necessary checks to ensure that the company will be able to deliver a technological solution in line with what it presented in its bid.

“When we sign contracts, we want to make sure that they’re going to deliver the goods,” insisted the Minister, adding that the ministry’s IT managers had carried out rigorous evaluations.

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According to the timetable outlined by the parliamentary commission, pilot projects at the Centres intégrés universitaires de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) de la Mauricie-et-du-Centre-du-Québec and Nord-de-l’île-de-Montréal could begin within the next few weeks.

Minister Dubé then wants these two establishments to be operational in the new digital infrastructure by 2025 at the latest. The entire healthcare network will then be progressively integrated into the digital health record within five years at the latest.

Estimates put forward by Québec foresee a bill of up to $3 billion. It is hoped that the new system will provide healthcare professionals with better access to patient medical information, and greater fluidity in data sharing across the network.

For medical and administrative staff, the implementation of such a system would reduce the volume of paperwork and lighten bureaucratic tasks.

During the discussion with MNA Michelle Setlakwe, Christian Dubé opened up more about his intentions for the implementation of the new technological system. Drawing on his past experience in the private sector, he believes it is important to involve a third player to “accompany” the process.

This additional step could slightly delay the start of the project, as a new call for tenders will be required.

“It’s such a big project that we want to have someone to help us,” he says, evoking the image of adding suspenders to a belt. “We want to have an external advisor who’s used to this kind of implementation, to follow it through,” he reiterated.

To promote the best possible integration of the new system, Quebec wants to involve medical archivists and other professionals in the field who have a good knowledge of current health information collection practices.

Existing staff will support Epic in the development of the Digital Health Record, and a coach will ensure that the process, which is expected to take several years, runs smoothly.

The Canadian Press health content receives funding through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial choices.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 25, 2023.

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