Insights May 2024

Ontario Health Teams: Innovation or History Repeating Itself?

Umair Majid


The story of healthcare in Ontario seems to be an endless cycle of regionalizing and then de-regionalizing because it is too complex and expensive, only to be regionalized again – all coinciding with the political goals of elected parties. Ontario Health Teams (OHTs) represent the latest chapter in this long history of healthcare restructuring, aimed at improving patient care and system efficiency. However, as we continue this venture, it is crucial to ask ourselves: “Are we genuinely learning from our past, or are we merely repeating the same mistakes under a new guise?”

OHTs are not the first iteration of regionalized healthcare in Ontario. Over the decades, we have seen multiple waves of reforms, each promising to revolutionize healthcare delivery. From the establishment of District Health Councils in the 1970s to the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) in the 2000s, the landscape has been in constant flux. Despite these efforts, many of the underlying issues persist. The core problem lies in our collective inability to retain institutional memory. People come and go, taking their knowledge and experiences with them. As a result, each new initiative often starts from scratch, learning the same lessons over and over again. This lack of continuity not only wastes time and resources but also hampers our ability to build on previous successes and avoid past pitfalls.

Do we have a way to learn from our past efforts? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be no. There is a conspicuous absence of mechanisms to systematically capture and analyze the lessons learned from previous healthcare reforms. This deficiency begs the question: “Why haven’t we established such mechanisms?” It is not that we do not have the data to make meaningful decisions. We do, even though some may think otherwise. We just do not have that institutional memory required to build people-centred systems. One reason might be the inadequacy of data collection and documentation in previous iterations. If past reforms were not documented rigorously enough, we are left with anecdotal evidence at best. Without comprehensive data, it becomes challenging to identify what worked, what didn’t and why. This gap in our knowledge forces us to relearn the same lessons, thereby squandering valuable resources.

If we acknowledge that past reforms may not have been documented properly, then perhaps the primary objective of OHTs should be to ensure rigorous documentation and analysis of our efforts this time around. By doing so, we can create a robust body of evidence that future policy makers and healthcare professionals can draw upon. However, for this approach to be effective, it must be explicitly recognized as a key objective of OHTs. We cannot afford to allow this goal to become secondary or forgotten amid the myriad other challenges and priorities that healthcare reform entails. Meticulous documentation and analysis should be embedded in the very fabric of OHTs, with dedicated resources and personnel to oversee this critical task.

Merely documenting our efforts is not enough. We need a better way to learn and apply these learnings to drive genuine improvement in our healthcare system. This involves creating an infrastructure that supports continuous learning and adaptation. Such an infrastructure would include centralized knowledge repositories, establishing centralized databases where all data, reports and analyses related to healthcare reforms are stored and easily accessible to all stakeholders. We need innovation labs within our healthcare system, dedicated spaces where new ideas can be tested and refined without disrupting ongoing services. Additionally, we should consider adopting a model of dynamic learning, where real-time data analytics and artificial intelligence are employed to constantly monitor and improve healthcare processes. Moreover, implementing robust feedback loops that allow for real-time adjustments based on ongoing performance data and stakeholder input is crucial.

The development of OHTs presents an opportunity to break the cycle of repetitive learning and genuinely advance our healthcare system. However, this will only be possible if we commit to capturing and leveraging the lessons from our past. By prioritizing rigorous documentation and fostering a culture of continuous learning, we can ensure that each new initiative builds on the foundation of its predecessors rather than starting from scratch. In doing so, we can transform OHTs from yet another iteration of regionalization into a truly effective approach to healthcare delivery. The time has come to stop building a wheel on top of another and start building a more efficient and responsive healthcare system for all Ontarians.

If you want to read more on this topic, I published a comparative analysis of patient engagement policies of England, UK, and Ontario, Canada, here:

About the Author(s)

Umair Majid designs people-centred services using stories and rigorous research. He is the President of The Methodologists (TMT)TM and holds appointments at the University of Toronto and McMaster University. Subscribe to Echoes in Healthcare™, where Umair discusses the challenges of health systems using every possible angle. Subscribe to Healthcare Humanized™, where Umair explores the human side of healthcare. Currently, we have a “racism and discrimination in healthcare” series.


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