Like it or not, Manitoba, it is time to digitize our world. It is either that or slip into obscurity.
According to Cisco, the leading manufacturer and vendor of networking equipment and digital communications technology, in its June 2023 Digital Readiness Index report, Manitoba is lagging behind other provinces and territories in the technology field. We are number 8 among. Even the Yukon scores higher at number 6.
The feds aren’t all that much better, ranking 17th out of 167 digitalized countries around the world, this despite announcing a $3.2 billion spending effort in 2019 that seems to be focusing on just getting highspeed Internet to Canadians. According to its own map, the program is concentrated in high population areas, with remote communities still waiting. Number one is BC’s lower mainland.
As it stands, the federal government’s efforts may soon be obsolete thanks to Elon Musk and his Starlink program which is already providing reliable service to customers in remote locations.
However, Internet service is only one immediate first step towards what is required. We need interconnectivity between all the pockets of digitalized information that is already in the public domain, but not now properly protected. That includes your health information which currently resides in countless computers but is not interconnected even within the system, so it is virtually useless.
Why expensive? Consider just one of the many issues. You go for a blood test to one department which diagnoses an issue and sends you to another department. They do another blood test because the information from the first test is not available to them. More time, more equipment, more money.
Or how about the story on CBC recently about a woman whose father died suddenly. The family asked for a copy of the diagnosis to help them deal with their grief but was told it would be faxed to her. She said she didn’t have a fax machine, could they just send it by email. Oh, no, was the answer. We aren’t allowed to do that! Stupid, right? Private no! Back when my company had a fax machine, we often received medical records from one of the local hospitals by mistake. Our Fax number was apparently close to that of the nursing home they were contacting.
I can feel the vibration from all those who are disagreeing with me, shouting the need for privacy, and how nobody should have access to these records but themselves and their doctor and, anyhow, how safe is the Internet? It gets hacked all the time. And share your financial information? Never!!
Well, folks relax. Step back. Take a look at the big picture. Most of you already do Internet banking and most of you fill out your taxes online. You shop online and your credit card or banking information is shared with a private company. If you shop at Costco, you share more than just your credit card information, you are sharing your shopping preferences and habits. Get a parking or a speeding ticket? You can connect and pay the city online, not to mention paying for your monthly utilities. Most of you also are already registered with Manitoba Shared Health who have a lot of your health information from COVID-19. Remember that little Manitoba vaccine card you got? If you travel, all that information is already lodged in your passport and or NEXUS card.
Making the connections
The next step is connecting and linking all this info and more across the country, but at least let’s start with Manitoba. It is possible to do it all and save your privacy. Let me tell you the story of the little country of Estonia, only 1.3 million strong, the same population as our province, but one of the most advanced digitalized countries in the world. Estonia, by the way, created Skype, the first “face time” program.
All the country’s government services have been linked digitally across one platform, safely. The system includes education, justice, healthcare, banking, taxes, even voting – it is all there, accessible across the platform.
Here is the secret. While everything you can think of is online and accessible to users, data is not centrally held. The data platform instead links servers through encrypted pathways. Your doctor’s office would keep its own data, for example. When information is requested, it is sent securely through that encrypted pathway to the authorized requester. The system has been likened to blockchain but according to the innovators, it is not blockchain technology, but it is similar and offers the same immediate visibility of any attempted data breach. There is also a backup server to safeguard the system in the event, despite everything they do, that a breach occurs.
The Estonian system covers everything – even self-driving cars, but they have been at it for 15 years. We have a long time to go before we get to where this country is but on the other hand, we will never get there if we don’t start. And we can shorten our start up times using lessons they learned and by using the technology they designed.
For Manitoba, the first thing we should connect is our health care system. In Estonia, digitalization has had a powerful effect on health care, freeing up physicians and health care practitioners in a myriad of ways. Not only that, but it provides better outcomes because all the expert advice can be brought together in one place. Pharmacists can quickly alert doctors about medicinal conflicts, dentists, ophthalmologists, psychiatrists, physical therapists, can see the whole patient at any given time and more quickly diagnose big problems.
And of course, it reduces all that duplicated and burdensome paperwork that is keeping docs from seeing patients.
Administrators, unions, and health practitioners all need to come on side with this and help steer the reforms. This is not a political issue. It is something any government, no matter what their political stripe, should take seriously and start thinking about how it will be rolled out. Our health depends on it.