Health service to begin electronic patient referrals

New practice is part of a rollout of ‘e-medicine’ initiatives across the health system

The electronic referral of patient appointments by family doctors is to become standard within months as part of a rollout of “e-medicine” initiatives in the health service.

All hospitals will be able to receive electronic referrals, and 95 per cent of GPs will be equipped to send them by the end of March, as the era of the paper hospital chart draws to a close, according to the Health Service Executive.

All but a few hospitals will be able to share X-rays and scans electronically, and all 19 maternity units will operate a single computer system for expecting mothers and their babies by the end of the year.

A pilot electronic record system for epilepsy patients will allow for the more efficient and safe treatment of 100 patients.


This will include the genomic sequencing of individual patients for earlier diagnosis of their particular form of the disease.

Further pilot programmes will be developed for patients with haemophilia and bipolar disorder, which will allow them to input information about their health and medication status electronically from home.

Information network

A single medical information network is being created for the country’s 43 labs, making


the first country in the world to introduce such a unified, electronic system, according to HSE chief information officer

Richard Corbridge


Wireless capability in hospitals is also being extended.

Mr Corbridge said the new e-referral system would mean patients’ referrals landing in the hospital “before they even leave the surgery”.

In Dublin's Beaumont Hospital, a new electronic record system for epilepsy patients has reduced the time it take to detail clinical episodes from two days to 30 minutes and has enabled outreach clinics to bring services to patients with intellectual disabilities who found it difficult to attend the hospital.

The introduction of electronic systems in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin has also reduced the risk of drug-prescribing errors in the system.

Economic recovery

Minister for Health

Leo Varadkar

has admitted the health service had fallen behind on information technology during the recession, but said the economic recovery represented an opportunity to catch up.

“I want ambulance paramedics to be able to access patient records electronically from the moment they get to the patient or even before.

“I want every GP enabled to refer patients to specialists online and I want every radiology and laboratory system able to talk to each other so that test results can be accessed easily and do not have to be repeated unnecessarily.

“We have plans to do all of this in the years ahead, but we can only afford to do so if we keep the recovery going and the economy strong”.

The new national children’s hospital would be “born digital”, he said.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged there were risks around the move from paper to electronic patient records.

“We need to ensure we write privacy into all systems to ensure people with access to data don’t misuse it by snooping around people’s records.”

Good data recovery systems were also needed to deal with IT crashes, which have occurred in two hospitals in recent months, he said.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.