Wednesday 8 February 2012

Docs can now access national e-record system

First batch started using electronic medical data system last month
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2012

DOCTORS have started using the National Electronic Health Records - a system which gives every person just one medical record accessible to all the health-care professionals treating him, whether in a hospital or GP clinic.

The system currently pulls together the medical information of anyone who has ever been a patient at public-sector health-care facilities like hospitals, polyclinics and specialist centres.

It includes details like his medical problems, medications, allergies and results of laboratory tests. The plan is to also mine information from private hospitals and clinics, as well as step-down facilities like nursing homes and community hospitals, to make the electronic records more comprehensive.

The system, once fully implemented - likely to be after 2015 - will mean just one medical record for each patient, no matter if he is treated in a public- or private-sector hospital, clinic, nursing home or even in the army.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has been working towards this objective for many years, with former health minister Khaw Boon Wan first mentioning such a system in 2003.

Work started in 2009 with a budget of $176 million for the first phase. This should be completed by June this year, when 15,000 users from all public-sector health-care institutes, six community hospitals, two nursing homes and the armed forces, as well as 50 GPs, are signed on.

The first batch of users are doctors, nurses and pharmacists from Changi General Hospital (CGH) and the voluntary welfare organisation-run St Andrew's Community Hospital and Dover Park Hospice, as well as 10 GPs.

A CGH doctor, for example, will input details of his treatment of a patient into the CGH system. The system mines this information for all those signed on to the system to access.

GPs will have to sign onto a GP network to input information. This is expected to take place later this year.

Although the records technically went live in June last year, there were only a few users testing out the system. It was only last month that users in phase one started tapping the system.

Dr Theresa Yap had a patient complaining of chest pain. The GP's first thought was that it could signal a heart attack.

She had sent the person to hospital last year for further checks after he described the same pain but this time, she could check the information on the national electronic health records system before reaching a decision. She found out that the previous 'attack' had turned out to be gastric pain.

Since Jan 17, the system has also helped Dr Yap, who runs a clinic with her husband in Bedok, with her diagnosis of several other patients.

Since 2004, the two public-sector clusters, SingHealth and National Healthcare Group, have been able to access patient information from all public hospitals and polyclinics.

However, Associate Professor Low Cheng Ooi, chairman of the medical board at CGH, said the greatest value 'will come in three to five years' time when the data is very rich'.

That will be when phase two is completed. By then, the system should include patient information from community hospitals, nursing homes and private clinics. Information from some or all private hospitals and clinics might also be in by then.

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