A primer on Ontario’s health care system for hospital boards of directors

Lately I have found myself on a few health care boards in both Alberta and Ontario.

I have been impressed by the dedication of the board members, and the depth and breadth of expertise they provide.

I am also convinced that having many board members who are not health care insiders provides an exceptionally important external view and critical eye that makes the system better.

However, the health care system is so complex that getting up to speed can be a daunting challenge for new board members, especially those with no health care background. Even those of us who have worked within the system for many years are not aware of many important nuances – although I started medical school way back in 1976, there hasn’t been a single Healthy Debate story I’ve worked on in which I didn’t learned something.

Ideally, organizations within health care would provide their boards with an orientation to their organization, the board’s responsibilities and an understanding of how their organization fits into the broader health care system. Recognizing that not every organization is able to do this, Ayodele Odutayo, with help from Jeremy Petch, has produced a Primer for Hospital Boards of Directors. We hope it will be useful for hospital board members in Ontario, and will complement the excellent material already available to them.  In 11 pages it covers some “basics” that we think are important for hospital board members, with links to various Healthy Debate articles and opinion pieces that explore some issues in more depth.

We are committed to keep this material up to date, and will be reviewing the document every 6 months to add new material and delete material that is no longer current.

Healthy Debate is also working with the Association of Ontario Health Centres to produce a second guide tailored for board members of Ontario’s community governed health care organizations. We plan to release this second guide later in the fall.

I hope this primer is of use to board members and others, and I am eager for your feedback.

My thanks to Ayo and Jeremy for a terrific job, as well as the team at the Ontario Hospital Association’s Governance Centre of Excellence for their careful review and suggestions which improved the document.

To view and/or download the document, click here. We’ve developed the primer as a PDF that is optimized for online viewing on your computer or tablet (it contains many hyperlinks to helpful resources). You can also print the document to review offline.

Hospital board primer

The comments section is closed.

  • P Ricker says:

    Any plan to update the primer to account for the changes since 2013?

  • Judy Glennie says:

    Dear Andreas – %featured%Excellent document – congrats to the Health Debate team for this important contribution to the health care system dialogue.%featured% The fact that this is in the public domain is absolutely key, as it makes transparent for all to see the framework under which boards operate. There are a few other “Boards” within the system that I think would benefit from a similar publicly-available framework. Best regards, Judy

    • Jeremy Petch says:

      Thanks, Judy. We’re currently working on a second document for Ontario’s community governed health centres, such as CHCs, AHCs, and community governed FHTs. We hope to have it ready for the fall.

  • Chris Carruthers says:

    Excellent. All those associated with hospitals including physicians should read this. Well done.

  • Maureen Taylor says:

    %featured%What an excellent and valuable primer – not just for hospital board members! I feel this should be taught to students in Med School and PA School %featured%(btw, would have been nice to see PAs mentioned, but I’m sure you’ll take care of then on your next update :)

  • Tom Closson says:

    %featured%This is an excellent document for educating hospital board members (and senior leaders). It provides a range of factual information about the current legislative framework and, in addition, has links to provocative commentary regarding how current legislation and practices need to change%featured%


Andreas Laupacis

Editor-in-chief Emeritus

Andreas founded Healthy Debate in 2011. He is currently the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ)

Republish this article

Republish this article on your website under the creative commons licence.

Learn more