Patients with epilepsy among first to trial health identifiers

Standards for managing unique numbers to track people in health system published

Patients with epilepsy will be among the first to trial individual health identifiers, a unique number which will eventually be given to every person in the State to track them through the health and social care system for life.

A new unit will be established within the Health Service Executive to manage the rollout of the individual health identifier (IHI) numbers and the national register containing them.

The standards for managing the identifiers were published by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) on Wednesday following a public consultation.

Hiqa said the identifiers, which are provided for under primary legislation, would improve patient safety. Health services providers will use a patient’s IHI when communicating with other health service providers about their care.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the identifiers would become a major step forward in modernising the health service.

“It will allow us to follow patients and staff as they move through the health service in a way we currently can’t. This will improve patient safety, reduce duplication and errors, and give us a huge amount of new data that we can use to make services more efficient and improve planning.”

Hiqa's acting director of health information Rachel Flynn said such identifiers were the cornerstone of e-health systems and were also key for implementing electronic health records and for electronic prescribing of medicines.

She said on Wednesday it would take “a number of years” to roll out the system fully following the initial trial period this year.

The standards were approved by the board of Hiqa last week and were also issued to the chief information officer of the HSE, Richard Corbridge.

Safe storage

The health identifiers operator will be a business unit of the HSE and it will be responsible for safely storing all personal data required for use of the identifiers.

Hiqa will monitor the operator’s compliance with standards. It is also conducting a privacy impact assessment “to ensure privacy risks are addressed”.

Mr Corbridge said the HSE had built the infrastructure required to deliver identifiers nationally.

This could become “live” once the final elements of the legislation were formalised and the privacy impact assessment was published.

“The HSE will work across three clinical areas in 2015 to trial the use of the individual health identifier in clinical information systems; these will be the epilepsy electronic patient record, one multi-GP general practice and the electronic medical record within a hospice,” Mr Corbridge said.

While the identifier will not contain any clinical information, an individual’s personal details such as date and place of birth, mother’s maiden name, signature, photograph and PPS number may all be included in the health record.

Health promotion

Health insurers, coroners and the Central Statistics Office are among the organisations that will have some access to health identifiers for the purposes of health promotion, health service management or research. They will not, however, have direct access to the national register of such health identifiers.

Organisations that will have access to the register itself include the Child and Family Agency, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, the Mental Health Commission, the National Cancer Registry Board, the Irish Medicines Board and the State Claims Agency.

Penalties of up to €100,000 will apply if a person is convicted on indictment of using health identifiers improperly.

Hiqa said the health identifier record was considered personal data within the meaning of the Data Protection Acts, and must be treated appropriately by those providing health services.