10 April 2012


Last week I attended the launch of a new initiative for British Columbia by the BC Ministry of Health, called ThinkHealthBC.   As part of the initiative the BC Ministry of Health has launched site  (http://www.thinkhealthbc.ca/) with a forum where citizens can discuss health care issues, including care and policy issues and participate in the process of health care delivery in BC.  I see this as part of the provincial government's continuing effort to engage citizens in discussions about their province and the decisions affecting them.

The morning started with a discussion led by Minister Michael de Jong.  Though I had never met him in person, I was already a fan of Minister de Jong because of his early support and adoption of open data and his stand on being accountable to citizens.  He led an engaging discussion and impressed me as an effective leader, as well as pragmatic, sincere and generally very likeable.  I believe he is creating an environment that fosters discussion and innovation where the best ideas and solutions can emerge.

Here's what I got from the general discussion with Minister de Jong:

  • Healthcare costs are the number one issue facing [provincial] governments and may well be the issue of the decade;
  • Costs have doubled in the past ten years to the point where nearly ½ of every tax dollar is spent on healthcare;
  • 1% of the population consumes ⅓, and 5% consumes ⅔, of healthcare costs;
  • Individual costs are decreasing (e.g., pharmaceuticals cost less, surgeries cost less than ten years ago), but expectations are rising and costs of new treatments higher; and
  • Our generation may be the first generation in history that does not live as long as our parents.
My first reaction to the issue of escalating health care costs is resignation.  What can I do?  I am not a health care expert and I am not included in the discussion.  I just pay for it and it continues to consume more and more of my money.

This thinking clearly flies in the face of my role as an open government and open data enthusiast.  With governments making more and more of our data available to us, we are being presented with more of an opportunity to help out.  Further, with new inclusive initiatives like ThinkHealthBC, the "I'm not included in the discussion" argument holds less water.  I expect that this trend of governments making our data available and finding ways to engage with citizens will continue.  Our role as citizens is expanding from merely voting once every four or five years, to having the data and tools to analyze problems, propose solutions and participate in policy making.

Viewed simply, the health care cost issue occurs as a huge problem.  But, given that it consumes 42 percent of our provincial budget, an alternate point of view could be to see it as a huge opportunity.  Small positive changes here can have a huge impact on the cost and delivery of health care.   As a result of attending this discussion and my involvement in various projects,  including my role at MD DataBank and my open data projects and advisory roles, I will be thinking of ways that I personally can contribute to solving tough problems and making our country and provinces even better.

As I can often be heard saying, we can no longer expect governments to do all the thinking and all the doing.  Not only can we not afford it, but more and more there is recognition that good ideas can come from anywhere, including from you.  

Join me in visiting http://www.thinkhealthbc.ca to see how you can get involved.