by Fergal Bowers
Electronic health records, eprescribing as well as online application for medical cards and other health entitlements are promised under a new National Health Information Strategy.
In time, patients will be able to book hospital and GP appointments online and receive electronic reminders for these. There will be a facility for patients to email complaints and queries to hospitals and health agencies.
The six-year Strategy will be funded with 72 million euro this year and 475 million euro over the next five years, the Health Minister, Micheal Martin said.
The soon to be established Health Information Quality Authority will have responsibility for its implementation. New legislation, the Health Information Bill, promised for the end of 2005, will have to enacted to allow for electronic health records and the use of the PPS (personal public services number each citizen has) as a unique identifier.
The advantages of electronic health records are seen as greater safety, more secure record keeping, up to date medical records and the ability to transfer health records, irrespective of which county or hospital the patient is in, or which healthcare professional they are seeing. It will mean access to medical records 24 hours a day and an end to paper records. It will also end the problem of missing records, the Minister added.
Other aspects of the plan are:
- a national population observatory to monitor the health of the population and to issue early warnings of future health problems
- a national internet-based health portal to allow people to know their health entitlements and to apply online for health grants. It will also be used to help health professionals, researchers and policy makers. Links with other Irish health portals and the EU Public Health Portal are planned
- centrally controlled waiting lists
- legal provision to ensure safety and confidentiality of medical records
- extending the National Archives Act to establish a national health archive to ensure proper retention of health records
The plan promises to improve information and communications technology in the health service to make sure that it is performing well and that the decisions being made are made with up to date information.