State has ‘huge mountain to climb’ to meet EU target – The Irish Times

State has ‘huge mountain to climb’ to meet EU target – The Irish Times

The Government has a “huge mountain to climb” to reach a European Union target that all citizens would have access to electronic health records by 2030, the State’s health regulator has said.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said in a new report that urgent policy development and investment in infrastructure was required in the State’s health information system to meet a 2030 EU target for citizens having access to their health records electronically.

The watchdog has previously called for urgent changes to how health information is managed, saying it was central to the success of the Government’s Sláintecare 10-year plan to overhaul the health service and integrate health and social care across State services.

In the new 95-page report, Hiqa identified four policy areas needed to drive improvements in the collection, use and sharing of health and social care information in the State.

The regulator has called for a national engagement strategy to be developed involving the public and health and social care professionals around health information.

It said there needed to be a solid legislative framework to enable the required changes and developments in health information and the sharing of that information.

Hiqa also wants appropriate governance structures to be set up to oversee the changes including the establishment of a national strategic entity for health information.

An improved infrastructure would also be required to support the collection, use and sharing of data, including a citizen health portal, the watchdog said.

The objective of the changes is to create a centralised electronic system allowing doctors and nurses access records about the health of patients and their medication regardless of where they are receiving treatment in the State, so improving patient care and safety.

“We are quite behind the curve in terms of having the infrastructure to allow us to do that,” said Rachel Flynn, director of health information and standards at Hiqa.

The State’s health information systems and policies were “under-developed”, preventing health and social care professionals from easily accessing information about patients “where and when they need it”, which can lead to repeated tests and delays in care, she said.

“Ireland needs to develop a shared infrastructure and common approach for the collection, use and sharing of health information across the health and social care service,” she said,.

“The Irish public have told us that they want access to their health information. In Ireland there is no system to provide citizens with access to their electronic records.”

Bringing Ireland’s health information systems in line with other European countries would improve the quality of health information, reduce costs, allow citizens to be “more involved in their own care and ensure care is more co-ordinated and efficient,” she said.

Ms Flynn said it was important for the Government to develop a clear strategy around health information systems because the changes would involve “extremely large projects but extremely necessary projects” but the costs could be prohibitive.

“Maybe we would have to prioritise because we may not be able to afford all of these projects,” she said.

She said Hiqa believed priorities should be focused more on the community setting such as prescribing medication electronically so the changes would provide benefits “across health and social care and across the whole population”.

Ms Flynn said the Covid-19 pandemic exposed shortcomings in available health information systems for citizens, such as not having a national register of how many people had diabetes in the State.

“It was more challenging for us given that we didn’t have those national systems in place,” she said.

“Not only did the HSE have to implement a vaccination programme for Covid, they also had to implement a national vaccination system as well.”

The regulator hoped the Government will incorporate its policy suggestions in the development of the Health Information Bill approved by Cabinet in April that paves the way for the changes, she said.

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