Letters: Ambulance service latest in long line of government computer goofs

Dear Editor,

What is it with the B.C. government and expensive, poorly managed computer projects?

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has learned via whistleblowers that B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), which runs the B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS), has dumped its highly touted, $2.8 million Electronic Patient Care Record (ePCR) system – before it even went into use.

A posting on the BCEHS Intranet, obtained by the CTF, reports: “BCEHS has been working hard to develop an ePCR system our needs for reliability, quality and functionality and can integrate with existing systems in hospital emergency departments. Unfortunately, the vendor was unable to meet our business requirements.”

The posting notes that “senior leaders” at BCEHS will develop a 90-day action plan and “commit to sharing the decision with staff by the end of October.”

Forgive paramedics if they roll their eyes at yet another target date. They’ve been promised this system for years.

Currently, paramedics write out patient details on paper. One copy of the paperwork goes with the patient to the hospital, while the other goes back to the ambulance station to be scanned and stored.

Because paramedics often attend accident scenes in poor weather, the papers can become wet and messy, potentially putting patients at risk with unclear information.

This led government to want to find an electronic solution, and it picked experienced companies. Panasonic got the contract to provide more than 400 Toughbook H2 devices, while Interdev Technologies Inc. was contracted for its iMEDIC EMS software.

The budget certainly seemed generous: $2.8 million works out to $7,000 for each device.

The ePCR system was hyped for years by ambulance service executives and health ministry officials, promising it would improve patient care and privacy, accuracy and operational efficiency.

The BCEHS also promised the system would be operational by June 2013. A YouTube video was even released, highlighting the system.

A year after that target start date, it appears the project is dead.

While it’s unclear why the system didn’t work, Interdev seems to have a good record and its iMEDIC is used by a number of other paramedic agencies.

Panasonic’s Toughbook also got good reviews.

This is the second big computer glitch paramedics have had to endure in a year. Last summer, the paramedics’ union complained that a new payroll system underpaid some workers and totally missed others.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, these are just part of a long line of provincial government computer system failures.

In May, The Vancouver Sun discovered that taxpayers were spending half a million dollars a year to fly in and house troubleshooters to try and keep the province’s $182 million, glitch-ridden Integrated Case Management system running. This was the same system that crashed for more than a week this spring.

ICBC is sending out cheques to 240,000 customers who overpaid for auto insurance because of incorrect vehicle descriptions in their new computer system.

There’s more.

The budget for the E-Health system ballooned from $30 million to $138 million, according to the NDP.

The $89 million BCeSIS system, used to manage student records, was scrapped after years of complaints.

Last year, B.C. Auditor General John Doyle ripped the security of the Province’s JUSTIN system, which holds details of more than a million police investigations. Doyle gave 100 recommendations to fix the system, noting,

“The information… is not adequately protected from internal or external threats.”

If these computer projects were new schools, highways, stadiums, or fast ferries, government would be excoriated for not managing the projects efficiently. Technology should be treated no differently – taxpayers deserve to know why these projects are going over budget, why they are failing, and precisely what government plans to do about it.

Jordan Bateman, Langley

[Jordan Bateman is the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.]

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