Cork and Kerry hospitals introduce electronic referral system for GPs

Healthlink project provides web-based messaging service for transmission of clinical patient information

Public patient referrals: new system in Tallaght, Cork and Kerry makes automated bookings. Photograph: David Sleator

Public patient referrals: new system in Tallaght, Cork and Kerry makes automated bookings. Photograph: David Sleator


All acute hospitals in Cork and Kerry have introduced an electronic system for GPs referring patients for public outpatient hospital appointments as part of a Health Service Executive national pilot project.

The Mercy University Hospital in Cork was the first hospital to accept electronic referrals from GPs. Since then the other acute hospitals in the region – Mallow General Hospital, Cork University Hospital, the South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital, Kerry General Hospital and Bantry General Hospital – have made the electronic system available. Tallaght hospital, which was also part of the Healthlink pilot project, is also accepting electronic referrals to its paediatric services.

To date, almost 7,000 electronic referrals have been received by the hospitals in Cork, Kerry and Tallaght, with almost 300 Cork- and Kerry-based GPs using the system.

This represents 46 per cent of all local GPs. Some 40 Dublin-based GPs are using it.

Dr Frank Hill, the GP representative on the project team charged with the pilot project, says it has become his default option for all referrals to public outpatients as it is fast.


“It takes me less than a minute to create and send most referrals so I usually do it while the patient is with me.

“I get an immediate acknowledgment from Healthlink, which allows me to tell the patient before they leave that the referral has been received already by the hospital.

“I get an electronic message confirming the appointment from the hospital, which saves automatically into the patient file.

“This saves hugely on telephone calls to the hospital to confirm receipt of referrals when patients phone back asking what is happening with their appointment.

“It saves me the time and money involved in printing and posting.”

The project was established to develop an electronic referral pathway for public outpatient hospital appointments between GPs and the seven hospitals.

Healthlink provides a web messaging service which allows the secure transmission of the general referral from a GP to the hospital.

Once the referral has been received by Healthlink, the GP gets an acknowledgment of receipt of the referral and also an electronic response message detailing if the patient has been listed for an urgent or a routine appointment and the date, if available.

The system improves the patient experience by providing quicker access to outpatient appointments, reduced duplication and delays.

There is also faster access to a consultant opinion.