Standards important for S'pore e-healthcare

Interoperability of data plays key role in ensuring successful implementation and adoption of electronic health records, says Singapore's Ministry of Health Holdings exec.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Interoperability is a key factor in the successful implementation and adoption of electronic health records with standardized data playing a "huge role" in driving this need, says Ministry of Health Holdings (MOH Holdings) executive.

During her talk at Standards Innovation Exchange seminar held here Thursday, Dr. Sarah Muttitt, CIO of the Singapore Ministry of Health's corporate arm, underscored the importance of interoperability and the need to include efforts in defining and implementing data standards, as well as adopt an enterprise architecture approach to building the country's National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) System.

Dr. Muttitt said data standards used in the infrastructure are clinically-driven and easy to use. The system also uses international standards where possible as this eliminates the need to "recreate the wheel", she said, but noted that some localization is required.

International standards are also important as there will be a need to exchange information with foreign healthcare institutions "at some point", she added, especially in clinical and translational research where data needs to be shared worldwide to establish a large enough population size to power projects.

She revealed that the contract for the first phase of NEHR, scheduled to go live in April 2011, was awarded last month after more than a year of procurement. According to the MOH Web site, the S$176 million (US$128.9 million) tender was awarded to an Accenture consortia.

While the primary purpose of these records is to facilitate patient care, Dr. Muttitt said the data can also be used "meaningfully" for secondary purposes such as health system management to understand costs and outcomes, research, bio-surveillance and emergency planning. For these reasons, data needs to be "standardized, interpretable and shareable", she said.

Led by business models
Another way MOH Holdings ensures interoperability is by adopting an enterprise architecture approach to building the NEHR. This model has been extended to community hospitals and will further be extended to personal health records, Dr. Muttitt said.

Noting that some enterprise architecture are "academic" driven, she added that MOH Holdings will be "practical" in delivering the system so it will also be fit-for-purpose and future-proof as needs of healthcare system will grow.

She said the NEHR does not aim to replace existing infrastructure, instead, it pulls information from available systems to create an enterprise service bus which then allows information to be shared, exchanged and viewed from multiple points.

While the NEHR system falls under the Singapore iN2015 masterplan, Dr. Muttitt stressed that the initiative is necessary not "just for IT's sake".

"It's really about patients [and about] how we can provide the right information to the right patient, at the right time, so healthcare providers can make better decisions for their patients so that care itself is safer and of higher quality," she said.

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