Technology leader lauds Government for electronic health records push

ONE of the island’s leading advocates for the digitisation of medical records, Doug Halsall, has given the Government his nod of approval for its decision to approve a $780-million contract to implement the second phase of its electronic health record (EHR) management system.

The EHR system is being designed to streamline Jamaica’s public health sector and create greater efficiency through the use of technology.

The contract for its implementation was awarded to Phoenix Partnership (Leeds) Ltd, a leading global provider of health-care technology, which works alongside governments to improve health outcomes, tackle inequalities in care, reduce health service costs, and improve patient and clinician experience.

According to Halsall, chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems (AIS), an information technology solutions company, anything that advances digitisation is a good thing.

“Digitisation is not an option, it is a must if we are to achieve efficiency and certainly it’s efficiency in the health sector,” Halsall told the Jamaica Observer less than 24 hours after Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton made the announcement in Parliament on Tuesday.

Halsall, who has more than 40 years experience in leading the development of IT in Jamaica — including the introduction of computer services to banking, credit union, retail, hospitality and tourism and health insurance industries — said that while he would have preferred if the EHR contract had been awarded to a Jamaican company, he still wants to see the programme implemented successfully.

The AIS head said that one lesson he has learnt over his many years as a technology specialist is that a critical area for success in the establishment of an enterprise system in any industry and in particular in Government, is effective change management.

“The success of any enterprise system…requires leadership with the knowledge of the industry in addition to the knowledge of computers and technology because if you are going to sell nurses or doctors or radiologists as to why you’re automating and you’re digitising, you’ve got to be able to sell them the benefits and so for obvious reasons, it helps if you understand their industry so you can speak to them in their language,” said Halsall.

“I would advise the Ministry of Health to ensure that in addition to the assumed project management skills, that there are some change management skills and the change manager be given the autonomy to speak to department heads with the authority of the institution. That is certainly one of the lessons that we learnt from our experience at the University Hospital of the West Indies,” added Halsall who pointed out that his company is currently digitising the health records at that hospital.

In his statement in Parliament on Tuesday, Tufton noted that the EHR management system is the first component of the Government’s national plan for an information system for health.

He pointed out that the EHR system includes, but is not limited to, a range of data management activities, such as demographics, medical history, medication and allergies, immunisation status, laboratory test results, radiology images, vital signs, personal statistics like age and weight, and billing information.

“It will also address disease registries and health records in which health data and information maintenance will be shared by patients and providers,” the health minister said.

Tufton noted that the the contract award comes in the context of the urgent need for enhanced integration of health systems.

“This strategy is rooted in the information systems for health framework that is an integrated effort for the convergence of interconnected and interoperable systems, data, information, knowledge, processes, standards, people, and institutions, supported by ICT that interact to generate, identify, collect, process, store, and make free and publicly available, quality data and strategic information for better policy- and decision-making processes in public health systems,” he said.

The health minister added that the EHR system, which has a ‘one patient, one record’ philosophy, will have several features including a patient registration system for the appointment setting and assignment of patients in the triage process of the facility; the seamless interface of the critical diagnostic imaging that will enable doctors to see X-rays and CT scans on computers and tablets that have already been provided within these facilities; and the uploading and sharing of health records or ‘dockets’ within the public health system, enabling health professionals to trace the history of patients and to see the interventions that have been done.

According to Tufton, with this linking of health records, the cross matching and information sharing between health centres and hospitals will now be possible.

He told his parliamentary colleagues that the EHR will result in significant savings for the patients as test results will be readily available and the possibility of completing tests more than once will be significantly reduced.

Tufton further noted that the investment now makes telemedicine a reality for Jamaica, with collaboration among specialist and primary care health professionals now possible.

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