Call for greater spending on ICT in healthcare


16 Dec 2004

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The Information Society Commission (ISC) has recommended a significant increase in Government spending on ICT in the healthcare sector, including spending on interconnected services that will result in a healthcare service available to anywhere, at any time. Such services would interconnect GPs, community systems and carers with hospital management systems.

A report launched today by Tom Kitt TD, Minister for State with responsibility for the Information Society assesses Ireland’s progress in e-health and makes recommendations on how Ireland can improve and measure progress in this field. The nation’s bureaucratic and dysfunctional health system has attracted escalating criticism and controversy over the past year.

Proponents of ICT believe that investment in technology could do much to improve management of the crumbling health system and alleviate problems such as chronic staff and bed shortages. Siliconrepublic.com revealed earlier this year that the Department of Health is about to sanction the construction of an electronic Hospital Information System that could cost €500m over the next five years. UK-based software firm iSoft emerged as the winning candidate to implement the enterprise software solution that would tie together all aspects of running hospitals across Ireland in terms of patient records, procurement, scheduling and financial management.

This afternoon’s report by the current ISC – which is due to be wound down on 31 December – positions e-health as a core leadership strategy of the Health Reform Programme in meeting the challenge of delivering a healthcare service to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It recommends that the patient should be the focus of future technology developments in the health services, so that systems for GPs can integrate with hospital and community systems, resulting in maximum patient benefit.

The report cites successful examples already in place, such as the telemedicine project in Cahirciveen, which allows scans to be sent electronically to Tralee, eliminating the need for patients to make a two-hour round trip. The report also commends websites such as www.vhi.ie and the Caring for Carers website at www.caringforcarers.org for providing educational and informative health sites.

E-health can be defined as health services and information delivered through the internet and related technologies. Its benefits are recognised in its use as a tool that enables citizens to be better informed about their options, both in terms of healthy living and treatment possibilities. It also empowers clinicians and healthcare professionals, allowing them to provide a more informed patient-oriented service by giving them access to more and better information about patients.

The ISC claims that Ireland currently spends less on ICT in healthcare than investment levels internationally and accepted ICT investment levels in other sectors. There is also greater potential to take advantage of the funding available for health at a European level, through the EU’s research Framework Programmes. The ISC recommends that responsibility for this area should be given to the proposed Health Information and Quality Authority for implementation and evaluation.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Chris Coughlan, chairman of the ISC’s eHealth Steering Group, said: “Through its case studies, examples and recommendations, this report demonstrates the key role that e-health can play in reforming our health service. By delivering greater efficiencies, e-health systems are often self-financing, with the patient remaining the core focus of any systems designed.”

In total, the report makes 12 recommendations, which will deliver benefits to citizens, patients, healthcare providers and administrators and achieve an economic return on investment. The report can be viewed at www.isc.ie.

Speaking at the launch, Minister Kitt said: “There are significant and ambitious reforms being implemented in the Irish healthcare system — in hospitals, primary care, management and administration. E-health can play a key role in these reforms, facilitating the integration of healthcare services so that we become centred on citizens interacting with a series of interconnected services, rather than individual transactions with many separate organisations.

“E-health is not an end in itself. Rather it is a tool that enables and empowers those involved at every level of the health sector, whether as patients or practitioners. In the first instance, it empowers citizens by allowing them to make better-informed decisions about adopting healthier lifestyles. It also empowers patients by enabling them to find out about their medical condition and the various treatment possibilities. It empowers clinicians and healthcare professionals by allowing them to provide a more informed and patient-oriented service through giving them access to more and better information about patients, treatments and other parts of the care process.

“The good news is that international studies have shown that investment in e-health pays for itself over a relatively short period of time. For example, the US-based Institute of Medicine reported that 90,000 deaths are due each year to preventable medical errors in the US. The report indicates that decision support systems can cut adverse events by 55pc and that the prevention of adverse drug events saves more than US$4,000 per event. The report concluded that ‘a computerised system costing US$1-2m could pay for itself in three to five years, while preventing injury to hundreds of patients,” he concluded.

By John Kennedy