Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern, T.D., at the opening of the Healthcare Informatics Society of Ireland Conference and presentation of the O’Moore Medal, at the Stillorgan Park Hotel, Dublin on Thursday 17 November 2005 at 9.00am
I am delighted to have been invited here to open today’s Healthcare Informatics Society of Ireland Conference. I know that this year’s conference is particularly significant given that it represents the tenth year of this event. I would like to congratulate the Society on providing such an important platform for the discussion and dissemination of information on healthcare informatics over the past decade.
This conference is in fact particularly timely. We are all aware of the well-publicised difficulties, which have arisen in terms of the use of technology in the health services in recent times. While acknowledging that these problems have thrown up serious issues in terms of the management and control of ICT projects, we cannot allow them to deflect from the real and valuable potential offered by technology in the delivery of improved healthcare.
Healthcare Informatics focuses on the use of technology by health practitioners to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery. It is about improving patient treatment and care. And it is about enabling health practitioners to gain easier and better access to information where and when they need it.
Over the past 30 years, healthcare informatics has developed from a narrow cross-disciplinary interest to a discipline in its own right. It is encouraging to note that Ireland now has a growing number of health informatics professionals throughout the health system.
The Health Informatics Society of Ireland
The Health Informatics Society of Ireland has been working hard to represent the interests of the field since 1976. Back then the Society was known as the Health Care Specialist Group of the Irish Computer Society. I first came across this group when I worked in the Mater Hospital many years ago and over the years I have been involved with several of the Society's events. The broad membership of the Society means that it provides links between people working in many different areas. It also provides supports to the new professionals of healthcare informatics.
In any field - but particularly in one that is relatively new - the development and dissemination of knowledge is of great importance. The Society carries out this important function in relation to the use of informatics in healthcare. In addition, it contributes to the future development of healthcare informatics in Ireland through its work in promoting research and education in the field.
National Health Information Strategy
We live today in an information age. Easy access to and widespread availability of information is at the core of this age – and technology is seen as a key enabler.
Developments in healthcare informatics and other fields are transforming our information base. They are providing more effective means to protect health, combat chronic disease and plan and deliver healthcare.
Information systems and information technology within the healthcare environment have already transformed the ways in which we communicate, do business and exchange information. It is the pace of these developments and the potential they offer that make it essential to adopt a national, strategic approach to health information.
The National Health Information Strategy presents a high level analysis of this context. It oversees a landscape characterised by many well-developed information systems and IT solutions. However, it also identifies critical gaps in information. Most importantly, it identifies ‘islands of information’ rather, than a single environment in which information can best be collected and disseminated.
The new structures put in place under the Health Service Reform Programme are designed to facilitate the kind of strategic approach set out in the National Health Information Strategy. The Health Service Executive will work in close cooperation with the Department of Health and Children in ensuring that a firm basis for evidence-based decision making at all levels is put in place. A new organisation, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, will play a central role in ensuring that the key recommendations of the National Health Information Strategy are implemented. This Agency will be fully established on a statutory basis in the near future.
In the area of Information and Communications Technology ICT all developments will be conducted within the context of the national eGovernment and ICT frameworks. Under the reformed structure this will be carried out through an agreed multi-annual information and ICT action plan between the HIQA, the HSE and the Department of Health and Children. In this regard, the adoption of national solutions and enterprise-wide system approaches in ICT has much to recommend it. It will form the basis of policy. It offers the best opportunities for efficiency and value for money. And the reformed structures should provide the best framework to ensure appropriate management and cost control.
The health dimension of the Information Society – eHealth – is a significant contributor to information society developments overall. And the Health Service Executive is working, with the assistance of my own Department, towards achieving the European requirements in the area of eHealth. These focus on the patient as the basis of service delivery.
Some of the ICT projects that are currently being developed include:
- the deployment of a single National Electronic Patient Record. This will facilitate patient- centred care by making health information available to health professionals when it is needed;
- GP Messaging will allow GPs access to lab results electronically;
- Work is also underway regarding the implementation of the health aspects of i2010 and the EU eHealth Action Plan;
- Work is ongoing on a range of EU Directives and Regulations that directly impact on ICT in the health services.
There is no doubt that this is an exciting time for healthcare informatics. It is pleasing to note the progress being made within the Irish health service. To my mind, the vast potential offered in this area is only becoming increasingly apparent to us. As I said at the start however, given the pace of change, it is critical that we adopt a national, strategic and co-ordinated approach in terms of delivering in this area. Information-sharing events such as today’s, are of critical importance in this regard.
Professor Georges De Moor
Before I finish, I have one other important duty to perform today. As many of you will know, I actually have a dual function in my attendance at this conference this morning. As well as opening the conference, I am also here to present the O’Moore medal. This award recognises the outstanding contribution to the field of healthcare informatics by individuals or organisations. It serves to demonstrate the standard of excellence that is the mark of so many working in this field.
This year I have the honour of presenting the medal to Professor Georges De Moor. Professor De Moor is the current chair of the Department of Medical Informatics and Statistics at the State University of Ghent, in Belgium. He is also the President of the European Institute for Health Records. Georges has worked tirelessly on research and development projects as well as standardisation activities in the field of health informatics. He is certainly a deserving recipient of the medal today.
I thank you all for you attention and I wish you an enjoyable conference.