Interoperability, the Encompass Way

Our goal is nothing less than to make the Northern Ireland healthcare system the best and most connected on the planet. Everyone – patients and professionals – on the same page. Ambitious? Yes. Crazy? Yes. Impossible? Only if we don’t make the effort.

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Pharmacy, the medicines experts

Pharmacists, through our professional organisation, the Irish Pharmacy Union, became the fathers of two major standards

While we are all familiar with the maxim that “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”, there is a corollary. The perfect success story can be almost invisible, where a seamless solution just works. In Irish community pharmacy, there is an unsung story of standards in medicines information, with associated EDI messaging. These have helped to drive developments in both efficiency and safety for pharmacy and the wider public that it serves. In the 1980s, computerisation was in its infancy. BBC computers jostled with IBM PCs, Amstrads and Apple IIs. A 40Mb hard drive cost a king’s ransom and large lists were distributed on EEPROMs. Information standards were non-existent. Suppliers and software vendors jostled for dominance, all seeking a competitive edge through proprietary solutions. Emerging from this flux, a few issues were abundantly clear. The most obvious was the concept of lock-in. If pharmacists didn’t provide a solution, there was a real risk of getting tied to other people’s impositions. Pharmacists, through our professional organisation, the IPU, became the fathers of two major standards. One was a product file that was both commercially and technically agnostic. Distributed as simple text file, it provided current and reliable medicine information. The second standard followed from the first, a reliable electronic messaging system. While both these standards have evolved with the profession, they both illustrate the wisdom of a simple clear standard.

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