New strategy includes alignment of health and social care information, self-care portal, more mobile apps and increased use of data analytics
Northern Ireland is set to follow the trend towards the integration of health and social care with the development of an electronic record that combines data from the two sides.
The Executive's Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has highlighted the plans as one of the key elements of its new e-Health and Care Strategy.
More online support for patients and increasing the use of analytics also figure strongly.
The strategy document says that sharing information between professionals is a crucial element of the way forward, and that one of the priorities for the department is to explore the potential of a fully integrated electronic health and care record (ECHR) system. This would connect to specialist systems, enabling care professionals to get role-based information about patients and clients.
As a first step, the department is to develop a detailed case for an ECHR, setting out the investment needed.
Other actions around information sharing will be to give community based staff mobile access to health and social care systems, and to ensure that pharmacists, dentists, opticians and independent care providers can get the appropriate access.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton (pictured) said: “Our new e-Health and Care Strategy is our vision of what is possible in Northern Ireland. At its heart is my commitment to move towards the development of an electronic health and care record for Northern Ireland.
“I have directed £1million from the Transformation Fund to be used to progress a number of areas within the strategy over the next 12 months, including preparatory work in the development of an EHCR.”
He added that it will take a significant investment and, while he has asked officials to look at best practice around the world, the new system is likely to be based on the existing NI Electronic Care Record, which is now being used by 20,000 health and care professionals.
The strategy document highlights two more key elements. One involves working with the team behind NI Direct, Northern Ireland's public services website, on the development of a self-care portal to provide information and access to services. This will be accompanied by the development of mobile health apps and telecare technology, with a review of the existing Telemonitoring NI Service already under way.
The third element involves an increased use of data analytics to support personalised preventative care and population level planning.
Steps towards this include the improving the quality of information by mandating clear regional standards for data structure and document content, developing the use of risk stratification, and encouraging staff to develop their data handling skills.
The document also points a number of familiar problems in bringing health and social care together, including IT systems that do not link to each other, concerns about patient confidentiality, a lack of standardisation and structured data, and a continued reliance on paper documents in some organisations.
But it says that significant progress in overcoming these has already been made in the development of programmes such as a healthcare number for all patients, the NIPACS regional X-ray system, the introduction of two-way electronic communication for all GP practices, and improvements to networks and data centres used by the sector.
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