Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A qualitative study of health information technology in the Canadian public health system

Kate Zinszer1, Robyn Tamblyn1, David W Bates2 and David L Buckeridge13*

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical and Health Informatics Research Group, McGill University, 1140 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, QC H3A 1A3, Canada

2 Harvard Medical School, 25 Shattuck Street, Boston, MA, 02115, USA

3 Agence de la Santé et des services Sociaux de Montréal, 3725 Saint-Denis Rue, Montréal, QC H2L 1M3, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:509  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-509

Published: 25 May 2013



Although the adoption of health information technology (HIT) has advanced in Canada over the past decade, considerable challenges remain in supporting the development, broad adoption, and effective use of HIT in the public health system. Policy makers and practitioners have long recognized that improvements in HIT infrastructure are necessary to support effective and efficient public health practice. The objective of this study was to identify aspects of health information technology (HIT) policy related to public health in Canada that have succeeded, to identify remaining challenges, and to suggest future directions to improve the adoption and use of HIT in the public health system.


A qualitative case study was performed with 24 key stakeholders representing national and provincial organizations responsible for establishing policy and strategic direction for health information technology.


Identified benefits of HIT in public health included improved communication among jurisdictions, increased awareness of the need for interoperable systems, and improvement in data standardization. Identified barriers included a lack of national vision and leadership, insufficient investment, and poor conceptualization of the priority areas for implementing HIT in public health.


The application of HIT in public health should focus on automating core processes and identifying innovative applications of HIT to advance public health outcomes. The Public Health Agency of Canada should develop the expertise to lead public health HIT policy and should establish a mechanism for coordinating public health stakeholder input on HIT policy.

Health information technology; Electronic infrastructure; Informatics; Surveillance; Public health; Canada