What can the general public look forward to with Ireland’s eHealth programme?

Open heart surgery won’t be performed by a robot… at least not yet!

When it comes to technology in Ireland we can look forward to a vast range of benefits from having a national eHealth programme, but the ultimate aim will be better, more efficient patient care. When we access health services as patients, our health journey may take us into many places. Hospitals, GP surgeries and the wider healthcare community have complex, integrated workflows needed to provide care to patients, families and local communities.

An eHealth programme will need to realistically cater for the needs of patients and complement those of the clinicians who provide care – healthcare IT will need to fit in both with people’s lives and with clinical workflows. So open-heart surgery won’t be performed by a robot who has the artificial intelligence you’ve seen in the latest science fiction movie- at least not yet. However our approach can be two-pronged. It is important to promote and support exciting technological innovation in health care, while also focusing on the less exciting but crucially important aspects of access to good quality information.

Making a clinical decision can be incredibly difficult

One of the greatest strengths in having an eHealth programme is the ability for clinicians to share patient information efficiently. This means quick, safe and accurate decision making regarding clinical care. When we are ill we would like all relevant clinical information to be available to those looking after us, leading to fewer clinical errors and reduced patient harm. Imagine being a Doctor in an A&E department, and treating a critically ill patient without having access to their previous medical records – making a clinical decision can be incredibly difficult. This is changed when you have access to a centralised information exchange where a clinician has all the patient information required to take life changing decisions. Timely care is even more important when you consider clinical scenarios like heart attacks or strokes; sharing information like recent ECGs and brain scans will undoubtedly lead to better patient outcomes.

Monitoring and wearables

Having a system that shares health information inevitably leads to workplace efficiency. This means waiting less time to be given care. Ultimately this leads to cost savings that the HSE can use to fund new services reaching those in our community in need. For staff working in hospitals and in communities this is exciting as new services lead to new career opportunities and patient benefits. If the national eHealth programme can be rolled out to ensure integration and interoperability between hospitals and community, the cost savings can be used to pioneer new technology strategies such as telemedicine and mobile healthcare which are both rapidly developing areas in eHealth. So let’s remember that health technology is not just for clinicians. Imagine if your smart watch could integrate your sugar level or blood pressure over the last month into the hospital or GP system? This would save you repeated trips to see your doctor or nurse; they can instead call you in when they are concerned.

The HSE has been and continues to learn from the successes, and missteps, of national programmes from around the world so implementing a national eHealth service may take some time but it will lead to an untold number of benefits.

 

Conor O'Shea

About Conor O'Shea

Conor O’Shea is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, and has been a GP in Drogheda since 1998. He is currently National Co-ordinator of the GPIT group, which has overseen the ongoing development of IT usage in general practice in Ireland. He is also secretary of the HealthOne user group, which is Ireland’s longest established GP software. His strong belief is that IT for clinicians should be both user-friendly and of value in improving clinical care.

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