As the new year kicks off, questions will inevitably arise asking: what will be this year’s priorities and challenges for healthcare delivery in Canada?

In addition to a number of emerging priorities, there are some existing challenges that have carried over from last year. These ongoing priorities are typically focused on improving the patient experience, overall health and sustaining health, healthcare research and, of course, the cost of healthcare as our population ages. Not many surprises for those of us who have followed the evolution of our healthcare platform.

But buried in these objectives may well be some new thoughts, and some very innovative thinking on evolving programs that could provide enhanced services to Canadians. Also, we must be careful not to be distracted by – but still take into consideration— how the changing political landscape in the U.S. will impact Canada.

The ongoing debate regarding medication costs and the availability of certain high-cost medications has now become a priority, as Canada is reportedly spending an estimated thirty billion dollars on medications per year. Recently, the cost of medications in Canada were compared against several other countries and the results were somewhat embarrassing. “Canadians pay the second highest drug prices in the world, after only people living in the United States, according to several studies.”

In a recent interview with the Fifth Estate our Federal Minister of Health vowed to fix this situation and suggested that this may amount to billions in savings. Certainly, any savings that could be accomplished in this area would help to fund other pressing initiatives.

Another challenge facing us is resolving the “funding” issue for many of our provinces, as it relates to the transfer of funds from the federal level to the provinces. These funding questions apply to both the amount of funding, as well as the federal government’s insistence that provinces spend additional amounts on homecare and mental health. Coupled with the many provincial priorities that are either being contemplated or are in process now, it certainly seems that provinces will have a very busy and engaged year ahead.

Further to these priorities, the federal government recently invested additional funding to several research endeavours through Genome Canada to continue to promote Canadian research in the field of genetics. This area of endeavour is one in which Canada has played a prominent role, and hopefully will continue to do so in the future. So, it’s not simply the short-term that will challenge us in 2017, but the long-term priorities as well. Thus, inevitably the question becomes: will it be possible to move all of these initiatives forward or are we overestimating our capacity to continue current projects and initialize new undertakings?

Certainly, one of the pressure points for 2017 may well be the governance and management of our healthcare delivery process across the provinces. More and more questions seem to be arising about the capabilities and the capacities of the provincial ministries and agencies to oversee key healthcare delivery initiatives. Several provinces have either decided to reduce the number of regions or have already initiated activities to centralize governance. The reduction in numbers of regional entities will either improve the governance and outcomes, or it will further reduce capacity to initiate and implement projects that are needed in under-serviced areas. This is something to keep on our radar over the next year.

Needless to say, with these questions and challenges facing us in 2017, the role of ITAC Health and its member companies takes on a very challenging task; “how do we create value and move the priorities forward?” The many priorities include, consumer health, homecare and care for our seniors, chronic disease management, community care, cloud computing, population health management, precision medicine, mental health initiatives, analytics, machine learning, among others. Of course, these priorities are then paired with procurement issues and methods, ministry awareness and input, innovation – all of which will influence our activities and priorities for 2017.

The IT industry in Canada will need to continue to play a vital role in the evolution of our healthcare delivery platforms and in the overall health of Canadians. ITAC Health will continue to provide advice, direction and support for the large number of agencies, ministries, and organizations that are, and will, drive the changes and technology advances required. Through our various working committees, our board and of course our membership, we can work to steer the directions and the delivery of value into our healthcare delivery. Continued active participation and inventive thinking, along with innovative technology advancement will position ITAC Health and our industry to become an even greater contributor to the continuing evolution of our healthcare programs.

The original articles can be be found in the February 2017 issue of Healthcare Information Management and Communications Canada magazine.