With a plan to protect patients’ privacy, maintain confidentiality and provide security of sensitive data, the Ministry of Public Health is revamping its Health Information System (HIS). This world-class arrangement is intended
to reduce health service quality inequities between hinterland and coastal regions.
When fully implemented, the system will slash waiting time for medical services and improve patient health literacy.
Externally, the health information system has the support of PAHO/WHO, UNAIDS, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and I-TECH. Locally, the Ministry of Public Health is collaborating with the University of Guyana, e-Government, the National Insurance Scheme and the Government Technical Institute (GTI). These key stakeholders are all considered critical to the sustainability of a national e-health system, and they have all indicated their firm standing behind this Public Health Ministry initiative.
UG and GTI will integrate health informatics (the study of resources and methods for the management of health information) to their curriculum, to ensure graduates create a pool of skilled personnel from which the Ministry can draw to maintain this long-term initiative.
“I am excited about moving ahead with this,” said Dr. Karen Gordon-Boyle, Deputy Chief Medical Officer on Monday last, about the Public Health Ministry’s decision.
Dr. Boyle substantiated the notion that the hi-tech information strategy will dramatically slash waiting-time patients spend at public health facilities. When fully implemented, health providers will have more time to spend improving patient health literacy, which Boyle foresees will move health professionals from being seen “demi-gods” to becoming “real partners in health”.
Patients having been educated on their various health issues by their providers, will then assume “shared responsibility” for the maintenance of their health, the Deputy CMO explained. This partnership between physicians and patients provides “seamless benefits” such as a better patient health outcomes and empowerment. An empowered patient takes this information into the home and influences members of the family to adopt healthier lifestyles, thereby themselves becoming partners in prevention, giving credence to the fact that ‘prevention is still better than cure.’
With the HIS replacing the mainly manual arrangement still in use at public health facilities, Dr. Boyle foresees the creation of “health-information savvy organisations” operating from three pillars: governance and leadership; a highly-skilled and trained staff and a modernised technological infrastructure.
The HIS effort is part of a broader public health vision the government wants to see come into fruition by 2020, with three over-arching goals: advancing the well-being of all Guyanese; reducing health inequities and improving the management and provision of evidence-based, people-responsive, quality health services nationally.
Dr. Boyle is upbeat that the plan is achievable, because the Ministry has set as its vision that the strategy “will have the structure, standards, policies, protocols and capacities to ensure relevant staff have access to timely information to make evidence-based clinical, programmatic and public health decisions”.
The plan’s rhetoric is backed by its Health Information Technology (HIT), recognising in the words of David Blumenthal, that while information is the “lifeblood of modern medicine,” IT is the “circulatory system” that enables the communication of that information.
For Guyana, HIT must be integrated at every practical level of the country’s health system “to improve access to health information for decision making and ultimately, to improve the quality of health of all Guyanese,” Dr. Boyle told a just-concluded three-day workshop in the capital city.
The novel plan will reduce, drastically, the observable gap in the quality of patient-care currently existent between the country’s coast and hinterland areas. Under the new system, government-employed authorised doctors will be able to access patients’ electronic medical records from any Region of the country, so patients will not have to worry about the transfer of their health information as they move from one Region to another.
“Their information will be available electronically in every region at government health facilities,” Dr. Boyle assured, emphasising the central role that health informatics will play in the new milieu.
The Deputy CMO said health informatics, a central plank in the initiative, will greatly assist decision-making with its clinical, patient education and public health components. The government’s new health vision demands novel policies and fresh legislation to give teeth to what it wants to accomplish by 2020.
As a consequence, groups are working to help finalise the country’s E–health legislation and craft supporting policies to bolster the effort. It is here that the privacy and confidentiality of patients’ medical information will be guaranteed.
The strategic HIS plan should be available by September, Dr. Boyle indicated.
When fully operational, Guyanese can look forward to universal health coverage, made available through the mobilisation and re-direction of resources to address disparities and priorities; the building of strategic alliances with community-based organisations, private sector entities and other government ministries.
In addition, health promotion, increased health literacy, behaviour change, plus a raft of other benefits, will be available to beneficiaries, Dr. Boyle promised. She believes that the 2020 plan is within the national grasp if “we appreciate that all Guyanese have a right to the same quality of health care, which requires collective responsibility and collective action”.
“To ensure that all of Guyana rates among the healthiest in the Caribbean and the Americas by the year 2020, which is the vision, our mandate is to ensure that the interests of all Guyanese are adequately planned for and catered to, and as we execute this plan, we must hold each other accountable,” Dr. Boyle counselled.
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