Healthy future in the south west

27 Nov 2002

The Southern Health Board (SHB) is involved in a number of initiatives to use information and communications technology to deliver healthcare to citizens in the Cork and Kerry region. As a result, last year it was awarded the e-government label for best practice in e-government by the European Commission.

The board is active in a number of areas, but three in particular are coming to fruition: GP (general practice) links, digital television and community patents information management systems (PIMS).

Work on GP links has been ongoing for the past 18 months, according to Ursula O’Sullivan, IT/EU projects manager at the SHB. “We are linking GPs to hospital and health board laboratory systems,” she explains. The first step was to make sure that the different labs in the region were able to talk to each other and then to make it accessible in a secure way to outside care partners.

The system is currently being tested by 10 practices in the region and is scheduled to roll out early next year. GPs send in samples for testing and then instead of waiting for return post or phoning in, he or she simply clicks on an icon on the computer desktop and they are connected to the system via a secure VPN (virtual private network). The results appear in a standard web browser, but can be downloaded directly into their practice management system.

The work in digital television began in March of this year following the publication of the Government’s New Connections report. “We are working with RTÉ to build a migration pathway from analogue support to digital,” says O’Sullivan. Over 1,800 homes in Cork, Dublin and Galway are participating in a trial.

“Take Fair City, for example,” says O’Sullivan. “If one of the characters becomes ill, a telephone number where viewers can get more information flashes on the screen. The number will vary depending on the location.” In addition, spare channels will be used to deliver specialised programming such as cooking for diabetics.

The Community PIMS project began in 1997 and its goal is the creation of a single health record for patients. At the moment, whenever someone visits a health board unit (for example, a hospital) a separate record is created. On top of that, community healthcare workers such as the public health nurse, have their own records.

“What this means is that the public health nurse who visits, for instance, elderly patients in their homes following hospital treatment will have access to the same care path the patient started on her laptop,” says O’Sullivan.

She stresses this is not an email or messaging service, but full access to the records via GSM, dial-up or ISDN technology.

A key element of community PIMS is that patients will have access to their own records. “We are looking at people testing their blood sugar levels and having that added to their record,” she adds.