Billions of dollars are being squandered in Canadian purchasing of health software for reasons of industrial policy, which is leading to disastrous technical problems and vast overpayments to technology companies and consultants, critics say.
With governments about to engage in a $20-billion spending spree over the next decade for a national health infostructure, hundreds of Canadian and foreign companies are competing for lucrative deals to sell electronic health information systems promising to connect patients, doctors and hospitals.
But concern is growing that Canada Health Infoway and its provincial counterparts are directing the multi-billion dollar procurement process away from simple solutions based on free “open-source” software towards a multitude of pricier “proprietary-source” software products in order to stimulate Canada’s software industry.
“Government procurement officials have put themselves at the mercy of the software industry,” says Joseph Dal Mollin, vice president of WorldVistA, a United States software company that builds low-cost national ehealth systems based on a free software platform developed by the American government.
Dal Mollin, who also helped design OSCAR, a Canadian system based on free software, advised Infoway in 2007 to concentrate on “open-source technologies” that allow health providers to avoid paying expensive license fees to proprietary software vendors.
Taxpayer-developed open source systems such as OSCAR and VistA have been proven to outperform most proprietary systems, at a tremendous cost savings for taxpayers, Dal Mollin argues. But instead of promoting low-cost open source solutions, Infoway and the provinces have adopted policies formulated to suit “a revolving door of industry consultants who have vested interests in the system being overly-complicated and almost entirely proprietary.”
“As a result, we’re buying a bunch of fully-proprietary systems and trying to glue them together. It’s a tower of Babel,” Dal Mollin charges.