eHealth is an overarching term used today to describe the application of information and communications technologies in the health sector. It encompasses a whole range of purposes from purely administrative through to health care delivery. For example:

  • within the hospital care setting, eHealth refers to electronic patient administration systems; laboratory and radiology information systems; electronic messaging systems; and, telemedicine -- teleconsults, telepathology, and teledermatology, to name a few
  • within the home care setting, examples include teleconsults and remote vital signs monitoring systems used for diabetes medicine, asthma monitoring and home dialysis systems
  • within the primary care setting, eHealth can refer to the use of computer systems by general practitioners and pharmacists for patient management, medical records and electronic prescribing.

A fundamental building block of all these applications is the Electronic Health Record, which allows the sharing of necessary information between care providers across medical disciplines and institutions. Other important uses of eHealth are found in the areas of continuous medical education and public health awareness and education.

eHealth is an essential element of health care renewal: its application to Canada's health care system will result in benefits to Canadians through improvements in system accessibility, quality and efficiency. The Government of Canada has been making investments in this area since the 1997 Federal Budget, including federal commitments towards First Ministers Agreements (September 2000 and 2003). A key factor in the success of the Government's work is its strong commitment to collaboration.

Health Canada's priorities and efforts have focused on addressing policy issues and challenges in mainstreaming eHealth services within Canada's health care system and in measuring progress in the deployment and investment of these services.

For example, recognizing the benefits of electronic prescribing, Health Canada undertook a review of its federal statutes to determine whether amendments are required to enable e-prescribing. Health Canada has since determined that Part C of the Food and Drugs Regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act, and regulations made under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act do not present any impediments to e-prescribing, and that electronically generated and transmitted prescriptions are permissible to the extent that they achieve the same regulatory objectives as written prescriptions.

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