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A new dawn for eHealth in Ireland

With our paper-based records and unconnected IT systems, Ireland is years behind the majority of first-world countries in relation to healthcare IT and electronic records.

IHIs represent the first step in the introduction of electronic healthcare records, system-wide eReferrals and eventually ePrescribing. According to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, IHIs will improve patient safety, reduce duplication and errors, and provide data that can be used to make our health services more efficient and improve planning.

The HSE is now piloting IHIs in three settings and has begun to build the necessary infrastructure to roll them out nationally. It is also currently conducting a privacy impact assessment to ensure privacy risks are addressed, which has been a key issue behind the delay in the long-mooted change.

This month, the primary care IT plan will also be published by the HSE for consideration.

A key part of the plan will see delivery of IHIs into the first GP practices in 2015, the extension (and in 2016 the completion) of the first phase of eReferral implementation and the design of an ePharmacy programme of work that will have an impact on primary care.

The plan will see technology extended beyond the GP practice and into the wider primary care system. There will be a new focus applied to how technology and information can be used to support 10,000 clinicians and support staff in primary care who currently have little or no technology to support them in the delivery of care.

These eHealth developments are long overdue. Ireland’s national healthcare ICT spend is 0.85 per cent of the total healthcare budget relative to the EU range of 2-to-3 per cent, partly due to the PPARS fiasco.

After many years of delays and uncertainty, there is now a welcome new sense of optimism around eHealth in Ireland and a strong implementation drive by the HSE’s new Chief Information Officer, Mr Richard Corbridge. The success of the first phases of the HSE’s ambitious eHealth plans are crucial however, to enable the planned full, long-overdue modernisation of our health services and the avoidance of another PPARS-style setback.

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