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NDP wants auditor general to review Nova Scotia health app

NDP Leader Claudia Chender has written a letter to Auditor General Kim Adair, drawing attention to a $49.6-million contract Think Research received to do work for Nova Scotia Health. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
NDP Leader Claudia Chender has written a letter to Auditor General Kim Adair, drawing attention to a $49.6-million contract Think Research received to do work for Nova Scotia Health. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Claudia Chender wants the auditor general to do a value-for-money study of the YourHealthNS app.

Premier Tim Houston launched the app in November at a packed news conference, touting it as a way to help people get better access to the health-care system.

Among other things, the app can locate the nearest clinic or pharmacy, allow someone to book a medical test and, as part of a pilot project, give 12,000 patients of certain medical practices access to their electronic health records.

The app was also developed using untendered contracts and cost $12 million.

In an interview earlier this week, Chender said the ongoing questions about the government's use of sole-source contracts, including those raised in a recent auditor general's report about the government's conversion of an unfinished hotel into a patient-care facility, raise "an alarm about the way this government chooses to spend our money."

"And the bottom line is, it's without very much oversight."

5-year contract

In her letter to Auditor General Kim Adair, Chender draws attention to a $49.6-million contract Think Research received to do work for Nova Scotia Health, including on the YourHealthNS app.

Nova Scotia Health started the agreement with Think Research using an alternative procurement in February 2023. A five-year contract was subsequently signed in March 2023 and revised last December.

Chender said it can be appropriate to use alternatives when there are no other options or it is an emergency, but she does not think that's the situation in this case.

"Certainly there are other vendors — ideally vendors here in Nova Scotia — who could have done the same work."

A spokesperson for the health authority said Think Research has received $4.3 million so far for its work related to the app.

The company's chatbot responds to questions. When the bot cannot produce an answer, human support is made available as a backstop.

Company paid $8.3M so far

The company is also providing virtual urgent care support on its own platform as part of a pilot program the health authority is running at some emergency departments to help triage patients who might not be facing an emergency.

In such cases, a patient is able to see a doctor or nurse virtually rather than having to wait to see someone in person at the emergency department.

Think Research has been paid $8.3 million so far for that work.

The health authority spokesperson said the five-year contract for Think Research would be split evenly over its lifetime between support for the app and the virtual urgent care program.

A spokesperson for the NDP said Chender has not yet received a response from the auditor general's office.

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