IT vital to modern health sector

23 Jun 2006

New initiatives like telemedicine and remote healthcare which will rely heavily on IT and communications will lay the foundation of a modern Irish health system, a technology analyst has predicted.

IReach analyst Ed O’Malley pointed to the heightened demand for healthcare in Ireland and the difficulty the health sector currently faces in keeping up with demand.

“According to Central Statistics Office figures, the proportion of the Irish population aged 60-plus will grow by approximately 10pc by 2012. As Ireland’s population demographic matures and the average life expectancy increases, various socioeconomic and cultural patterns will emerge that will place immense pressure on the health sector,” he said.

Technological innovations will lay the foundations for a modernised health sector infrastructure, which, he warns, must be cemented by proactive and innovative management strategies.

O’Malley said: “In order to combat this growing demand for healthcare, initiatives are being introduced worldwide such as remote healthcare and telemedicine which propose the use of technology to communicate and connect with medical professionals, thus eliminating geographical barriers and reducing the reliance on medical staff such as nurses.”

The delivery of electronic services over a general-purpose IP network shared by a number of different institutions will provide huge advantages to public sector patients, he said. Once a foundation is in place, new applications can be turned on quickly and operated at minimum cost since communications facilities are being shared.

Among the technologies that will revolutionise the health system would be telemedicine, which would involve a hospital consulting with a centre of excellence on fractures, relaying the pictures over the internet, O’Malley claimed.

Another concept would be the wireless hospital, which would use wireless technology to share information and access data and records, increasing staff productivity and efficiency.

A final crucial area would be e-learning in healthcare, using online technologies to disseminate healthcare-related information to professionals and the public, he suggested.

By John Kennedy