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EHR would ‘help protect’ healthcare workers from Covid-19 infection

The widespread use of an electronic healthcare record (EHR) in hospitals would reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection in healthcare workers, many of whom are still using traditional paper documents for capturing and relaying patient information, the Medical Independent (MI) has been told. 

Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry, North Dublin, Dr Matthew Sadlier told MI that the current Covid-19 pandemic highlights the value of an EHR in terms of staff safety. 

“What this Covid crisis has shown more than anything else is that our IT structure and our information structures are not suitable for the 21st Century,” according to Dr Sadlier. 

“We are still using paper charts which at this point in time for us is a major source of infection, when we’re trying to reduce contact with social distancing. But in a hospital each patient’s chart is handled by how many different professionals each day because there’s no other alternative. While if you had an electronic patient record that’s accessible from different points, that would be fine.”

Speaking to MI, Consultant in Infectious Disease, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland, Dr Eavan Muldoon, said the development of electronic health records in general, and especially electronic prescribing, has a “significant and valuable role in antimicrobial stewardship”.

“Some of our members work in centres with EMRs [electronic medical records] and have seen the benefit in the current situation as it allows the remote evaluation of patient vital signs etc.,” according to Dr Muldoon. 

“Additionally it allows remote MDT [multi-disciplinary team] working, where clinical data can be reviewed.”

Dr Muldoon stressed there must be enough terminals for staff to use the electronic records, especially when physical distancing so important.

“Terminals must be able to be disinfected and this [should be] done frequently. Any system should be adopted on a nationwide basis rather than different systems in different centres. Finally many of us have experienced the introduction of EMRs in hospitals we have worked in. This is a process that needs to be done in a thoughtful and considered manner, not during a crisis.”

The HSE had previously finalised an EHR business case, which was approved by the HSE leadership team in the spring of 2016. The case was submitted to the Department of Health but since then, progress has halted. The Executive was revising the case following requests from the Department.

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