HIQA updates messaging standards for Irish doctors to improve patient care

6 Oct 2017

The current regulations for electronic messaging need to change. Image: Syda Productions

The new electronic messaging rules address the need for clearer communication and faster information flows between health professionals to create better patient outcomes.

The massive quantities of data generated in modern healthcare need to be protected and used to leverage innovative health solutions, and HIQA has stepped up with new regulations for Irish GPs and hospitals to make communication easier and more beneficial to the most important person in the equation – the patient.

The first General Practice Messaging Standard was published in April 2010 and approved by the Minister for Health and Children the following month. This was followed by two further updates in 2011 and 2014.

The 2017 standard explained the need for new rules around patient information sharing, given the increasingly data-driven industrial climate: “Healthcare is information-intensive, generating huge volumes of data every day. Health and social care workers spend a significant amount of their time handling information, collecting it, looking for it and storing it.

“It is therefore imperative that information is managed in the most effective way possible in order to ensure a high-quality, safe service.”

HIQA setting new goals for patient information sharing

The updated standard defines new messaging requirements in areas like sharing antenatal care records between GPs and hospital clinics. radiology ordering, emergency department and outpatient clinic letters, and the messaging of certain cardiology results to GPs.

HIQA hopes the new regulations will standardise the transmission of these electronic messages “making accurate information available in a timelier manner to healthcare practitioners providing patient care, leading to safer, better care for patients”.

Director of health information and standards at HIQA, Rachel Flynn, said: “Safe and reliable health and social care depends on access to and use of information that is accurate, valid, reliable, timely, relevant, legible and complete.

“Messaging standards facilitate the sharing of clinical, administrative and patient information in a timely manner ensuring the right information is available to treating healthcare professionals and ensuring that patients get the correct treatment at the appropriate time.”

Current Irish healthcare ICT system is not up to scratch

According to the HIQA report into the new standard, in Ireland there is too heavy a reliance on the individual memories of healthcare workers, and the body describes the current documentation standard in Irish healthcare as “poor”.

HIQA was critical of Ireland’s present health and social care ICT infrastructure, citing “major gaps and silos of information which prevents the safe, effective transfer of information”.

These new standards will benefit patients by reducing the need for duplicate and repeat diagnostic testing, providing complete and searchable health information for patients, and will also aid in earlier diagnoses of diseases. New referral codes and structured reporting and correspondence rules will hopefully benefit practitioner and patient alike, as informed decisions will be made at a more efficient pace.

The benefits to GPs will be manifold, according to the report: “The Standard also helps to reduce the administrative burden on GP practices in the community by enabling patient information to be shared more effectively by electronic means.

“This has the potential to increase the amount of time GPs can spend on frontline service delivery to patients and reduce reliance on less reliable, traditional, means of information sharing such as record transcribing and hard-copy posting of diagnostic results.”

Universal buy-in is essential

Increasing digitisation of patient health and the emphasis on efficient, patient-centred care is a positive, but it’s vital that all clinicians and staff treat the undertakings as an organisation-wide plan, rather than just an IT department issue.

Siliconrepublic.com previously examined a report from Deloitte titled Ireland’s eHealth Transformation: Prescriptions for Success, which was released in January of this year. It stressed the need to manage expectations around factors like going paperless, migration of data to the cloud, and provision for the mobility of patient data.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects