Will the Electronic Health Record be good for our health?

12 Jul 2016

NDRC’s Fergus O’Dea outlines why he believes Ireland’s Electronic Health Record might be the most important healthcare investment of the decade.

In August of last year, the HSE released a vision and direction statement for the establishment of a national Electronic Health Record (EHR). Documents of this sort are rarely page-turners but this one is admirably accessible to a lay reader.

There is one particularly noteworthy phrase: ‘The imperative to act differently’. There can hardly be a better summation of the nation’s current attitude to healthcare than this. Our day-to-day lives have been transformed, from the important to the frivolous (more cat gifs anyone?), while we have neglected the opportunity afforded by the digital revolution to transform how we manage our health and wellness both as individuals and at population level.

The momentum in the EHR programme has been a welcome surprise in an industry hardly noted for its pace of change and, in Richard Corbridge, the HSE has found a leader behind whom the organisation and, indeed, the wider community can rally.

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The importance of rolling out the EHR cannot be overstated. Not only will it mean that potentially life-saving medical information will be available regardless of where a patient accesses our healthcare system, but it is also a fundamental building block in unlocking digital opportunities.

EHRs represent an essential shift within global health IT systems from tracking the information required by that particular institution to a patient-centric repository of information. This unlocks the potential for major cost savings through efficiency of operations and communications alone, but perhaps more importantly creates a platform upon which a digital revolution in healthcare can be founded.

‘The Electronic Health Record is a fundamental building block in unlocking digital opportunities’

The possibilities are almost endless but a few in particular are worth emphasising. First, there’s a holistic patient record that supports multi-disciplinary care transcending specialities and keeps chronically ill patients healthy, and at home, for longer.

Second, a digital health passport for everyone in the state provides a technological basis on which to build personalised applications to self-manage our health. It’s worth noting that this platform is necessary but not sufficient, as the tricky part here is around engagement and behaviour change.

Third on the list of possibilities is an aggregated database that supports better decision-making and resource allocation at a population health level.

And, finally, there’s the possibility of a predictive healthcare record. While the ethical implications and the legislative framework that would be required to implement this are not insignificant, imagine the ability to predict and potentially prevent diseases before they occur, or support behavioural change to prevent the onset of lifestyle disease.

We see an opportunity to promote ideas that build on this key piece of infrastructure in some areas of strategic importance, including chronic disease management, healthy ageing and business process optimisation. However, implementing ideas in the healthcare environment requires a deep understanding of clinical, operational and payment workflows.

By Fergus O’Dea

Fergus O’Dea is a venture investment leader at NDRC who, prior to this role, held various positions in industry including commercial manager at ResMed and senior scientist at Pfizer Biotech. O’Dea holds a master’s in biopharmaceutical engineering and an MBA from University College Dublin.

NDRC has partnered with e-Health Ireland to make resources available to help people to stress-test potentially disruptive ideas, meet potential co-founders or team members, and build their networks through a targeted pre-accelerator programme. If you would like to get involved, register your interest at www.ndrc.ie/healthtech.

Health records image via Shutterstock