HSE urged to triple IT spend to transform Irish healthcare system

19 Nov 2009

The Health Service Executive has been urged to triple its spend on healthcare IT from 0.75pc to 2.25pc of its total budget to enable Ireland to deliver 21st-century patient care. Some €195 million could be saved by treating chronic illnesses in the home.

The 17 ICT players in the Health ICT Industry Group, including BT, Intel, IBM, Cisco and Microsoft have told the Government that the next leap in healthcare quality and cost effectiveness will come about as a result of improved ICT. Many European countries, such as Sweden, have already embarked on this journey and dramatic benefits have been achieved.

Amount of potential savings

If Ireland was to go down the same road as six other leading European nations, the country could achieve €195 million in annual savings by treating chronic illnesses in the home.

A further €79 million in savings could be achieved through the use of electronic patient records to improve hospital processes and thereby reduce unnecessary bed days.

A strategic ICT rollout could also result in 106,000 few prescription errors per annum in the primary-care sector, plus 292 fewer diabetic deaths per annum.

The group said these direct cost savings, improved safety and improved access to care can only be made possible through ICT investment in areas that have well-proven business cases, such as electronic transfer of prescriptions, clinical decision support, electronic health records and chronic disease management systems, all underpinned by a modern IT infrastructure.

To achieve this, the HSE will need to leverage the skill and capacity of the ICT industry in areas like process re-engineering and systems development that could reduce the upfront investment costs.

A look ahead

The Health ICT Industry Group said the HSE could achieve a lifetime return on investment of 400pc within five years if it were to triple its ICT budget from 0.75pc today to 2.25pc of the total HSE budget over the next three years.

The group said that in order to prepare for this journey, the commitment to and resourcing of a “modern IT-enabled healthcare system must be made a national priority for Government, with leadership coming from the Minister for Health and Children.”

The CEO and board of the HSE, the group said, must accept leadership responsibility for the effective ICT programme to deliver an affordable world-class healthcare service.

A long-term partnership with the ICT industry, the group added, would enhance the HSE’s capacity to implement IT systems.

Calling on Enterprise Ireland

As part of the move towards a Smart Economy, the group urged the Government to direct Enterprise Ireland to establish a healthcare technology cluster. The Government should also ensure that the public procurement process encourages R&D, experience-building and knowledge-sharing within SMEs, for example by supporting “lighthouse” applications in selected areas.

The industry group called on the Government to create a Unique Health Identifier and a national Electronic Health Record system spanning primary and acute care within three years. “These systems offer major benefit in terms of patient safety, healthcare quality, chronic disease management and financial effectiveness. They are the essential building blocks for future healthcare ICT systems.”

The report also urged that open standards are utilised to ensure interoperability into the future between different healthcare ICT systems and that a major focus is placed on developing IT skills and knowledge within the HSE.

Advisory group

The industry called on the HSE board to establish a high-level advisory group, comprised of internal executives and external experts from the medical, academic and business communities to provide ongoing advice on the exploitation potential of healthcare IT.

“The ICT industry in Ireland is willing to rise to the challenge of supporting the HSE in its goal of transforming healthcare for the benefit of our citizens,” the group said in the report.

“As we succeed together in this mission, we will also begin to position Ireland as a world-class supplier of healthcare services and healthcare ICT systems for the global market. In this way, we will establish valuable assets for the new Smart Economy,” the Health ICT Industry Group said.

The group of 17 ICT firms includes: BT, Cerner, Cisco Systems, dabl Disease Management Systems, DMF Systems, eCom Ireland, Garivo Technologies, GE Healthcare, IBM, IMS MAXIMS, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, PA Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Total Training and Xyea.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The 17 ICT players in the Health ICT Industry Group have told the Government that the next leap in healthcare quality and cost effectiveness will come about as a result of improved ICT.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years