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Harnessing the full potential of eHealth

07 Jun 2017

The signing of the commencement order in relation to the Individual Health Identifier (IHI) — winner at last year’s Irish Healthcare Awards — provides the “fundamental block” in building a better health service through the availability of digital solutions, IMT reports.

One of the award winning projects at last year’s Irish Healthcare Awards has taken an important step towards its ultimate goal of digitalising Ireland’s health service, IMT reports.

The Excellence in Healthcare Management Award 2016 was presented last year to eHealth Ireland for its Individual Health Identifier (IHI) project, and just last week the Minister for Health signed the commencement order allowing for the operational use of the IHI throughout the Irish health system.

An IHI is a number that identifies each person who has used, or may use, a health or social care service in Ireland. Each individual will be assigned their own personal number that is unique to them.

According to the HSE, the main benefit of having an IHI is to uniquely identify each service user and therefore improve patient safety by reducing errors, such as ensuring patients receive the correct medication, vaccinations and treatment.

The IHI is established first and foremost as a patient safety mechanism, but it also allows for a new level of auditability and traceability for health information by providing a record of who accessed information and when. No medical information is contained within the IHI register, the HSE added.

The creation of an IHI is a key part of the Government’s eHealth strategy and one of the most important ICT projects ever undertaken by the HSE, and as such was a unanimous choice by the Irish Healthcare Awards judging panel.

The IHI number will be used to safely identify individual patients and enable the linking of their correct health records from different systems in order to give a complete medical history.

The project has been headed by Richard Corbridge, HSE Chief Information Officer with eHealth Ireland, who described it as a “fundamental block” in building a better health service through the availability of digital solutions. “The IHI allows us to work with GPs, hospitals, digital partners, patients, and service providers, to make the IHI available in as many care settings as possible. This will be done incrementally, with the patient’s interests at the centre of every decision along the way.”

Commenting to IMT on winning last year’s Irish Healthcare Award, Corbridge said: “At a time when success is not sufficiently celebrated, the Irish Healthcare Awards show the health service is delivering. The Awards have shown that the changes digital is making to health are being recognised.

“Health is a difficult place to work. The Irish Healthcare Awards give teams a chance to get recognition. We need to celebrate successful things.”

Welcoming the signing of the commencement order last week, John Hennessey, National Director for Primary Care, said that this would allow for the work to fully implement the IHI to proceed. “Making the IHI operational will be done in a planned and managed way over a period of time, to ensure that services are well prepared and that all safeguards are in place to protect people’s privacy.”

eHealth agenda
Minister for Health Simon Harris added: “The bringing into operation of the relevant provisions in the Health Identifiers Act and the making of Regulations on accessing the National IHI Register and using the IHI, represent further tangible steps in my commitment to enhancing patient safety and developing the eHealth agenda necessary for a modern patient-centred health service.”

The roll-out of the EHR system for Ireland’s first ‘digital babies’ has been embraced by healthcare staff with early reports of high levels of efficiency and effective use of integrated patient information for quality health service provision. It is envisaged that the acute hospital sector, all national systems, as well as the GP and community care sector will be enabled for IHI over the next two-to-three years, with a period of rapid scaling of IHI distribution taking place once all the pilot systems have been completed.

Sláintecare
The Future of Health Committee — which also reported last week — believes that the speedy implementation of the eHealth strategy is central to the successful delivery of integrated care. “Within the suite of eHealth developments embedding the Electronic Health Record (EHR) system into service provision is paramount,” the Sláintecare Report stated.

“In most countries, a unique patient identifier is a key feature of the eHealth system. Incorporating a unique identifier to each patient’s eHealth account allows providers to have immediate access to accurate demographic and clinical information, to determine levels of eligibility, and to refer to the exact patient when communicating with other providers and caregivers,” last week’s report added.

Cárta Sláinte
It will also be vital for the introduction of the proposed new Cárta Sláinte, which will entitle all residents to access a comprehensive range of services based on need. This will be legislated for, and implemented over a five-year period, according to the Committee’s report.

In his evidence to the Committee, HSE Director General Tony O’Brien indicated the IHI would be rolled out in 2018. “The adoption of the patient identifier is vital to understanding how the population, nationally and regionally, engages with the health system. It will also provide necessary information on the geographical and service areas where resources are most needed, going forward,” noted the Sláintecare Report, which also called for the streamlining of the ‘approval to spend’ process for the e-Health strategy between the Department of Health and the Office of the CIO.

It also called on the HSE to develop guidelines addressing parental access to electronic health records of their children.

The signing of the commencement order allowing for the use of IHIs is an important milestone, as it forms the foundation for the planned roll-out of a national EHR across Ireland, and was a worthy winner of the Excellence in Healthcare Management Award in 2016.

Entries to the 2017 Irish Healthcare Awards can be made online, with the awards handed out at a gala event at The Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin on November 16, presented by broadcaster and journalist Chris Donoghue. The deadline for entries in June 30. Visit www.irishhealthcareawards.ie for details or email enquiries@irishhealthcareawards.com.

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