It is generally recognised that the application of modern data analytics and ICT to healthcare can deliver significant efficiencies and cost savings as well as better patient outcomes.
Central to this is the creation of electronic patient records (EPRs) which will ensure that healthcare professionals have access to all relevant data in relation to a patient regardless of where the treatment actually takes place.
The current proposal is for an investment of up to €875 million on building an EPR system over the coming decade. The system will comprise four main elements – an acute EPR; a community EPR; an integration platform; and a national shared record provided via a portal.
"EPRs will mean that if you live in Dublin and you are on holiday in Kerry and visit a GP or a hospital they will have the full record of your medical history, your allergies, previous prescriptions and so on," explains KPMG head of healthcare Frank O'Donnell. "That will lead to better quality of care for patients, speeds things up and reduces the capacity for mistakes. Other countries have already gone down this road and are quite advanced on it. We need to do that as well."
This will be one of the areas of focus at the Festival of eHealth Summit, one of the 15 separate conferences which will take place at the Future of Health Summit. "We will be taking people through the business case for the introduction of electronic patient records, the costs involved, how it will work and so on," says HSE chief information officer Richard Corbridge, who will chair that element of the summit.
“It is a very good opportunity to find out what people think. We can’t assume that we can just take what they have done in the UK or the US and replicate it here. We need to ensure that it meets the specific needs of this country and the Festival of eHealth offers a good opportunity for people to feed into that.”
Useful as they are, EPRs are only one small part of the e-health picture. "A lot of health professionals are concerned about the amount of documentation they have to complete," says Bon Secours Hospital Group chief executive Bill Maher. "They put a lot of energy into paper care whereas they came into the service with a vocation to deliver patient care.
"We want to release more of their time to care for patients. We haven't really embraced technology in Ireland yet but the e-health summit at the conference will hopefully help address that."
O’Donnell points to how data collection and analysis can also be used to better plan and design health services. “You can use it to analyse behaviours of population groups such as people with diabetes,” he notes. “We can use that information to help keep those people out of the health service. We need to focus on keeping people well – that’s the best way to improve people’s overall health.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit that better use of data can offer is a clear understanding of why things happen in the system. “Very often, what we think are the reasons for something happening turns out to be incorrect,” O’Donnell notes.
“You need to look at a number of data points to see the whole story. People talk a lot about health outcomes. The challenge is to relate them to what is actually happening. Cancer is one area where outcomes have improved but causality is difficult to establish. It’s not impossible and that’s where data analysis comes in.
“That’s how we can achieve the good outcomes we are all looking for in terms of improved health and quality of care for the whole population.”
Richard Corbridge believes that the very future of the health service may be dependent on the successful introduction of e-health.
“It is increasingly being recognised that reform can’t happen without e-health. In the US, they are saying that healthcare won’t be affordable in future without digital technologies. The summit is a really good opportunity to hear people’s views about the best way forward in this area.”
Leesa Ewing, commercial director of IMS Maxims welcomes plans for a national EPR. “In our 18 years supporting the delivery of patient adminstration systems in Ireland our customers have benefited from streamlined care workflows; and a reduction in the administrative burden on clinical staff associated with paper-based care. Yet the benefits will be significantly greater if this approach is applied at a national level.”