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Jamaica is on its way to having a comprehensive national health information system (NHIS), which Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says will improve care quality by up to 40 per cent.

Stakeholders held the strategic planning presentation of the draft plan of the NHIS and final consultation in Kingston on December 11, at the Medallion Hall Hotel.

In his address at the ceremony, Dr. Ferguson bemoaned the requests for additional space for paper-based health records.  “I think we have gone past this…where we are now, it is almost primitive to continue,” the Minister said.

“While we recognise the value of storing our records, I think if we make a meaningful impact in relation to an efficient health delivery system, by improving our health information system, we will improve our quality care by possibly 30-40 per cent,” he added.

The Minister said the current system puts the sector at risk, as critical areas such as the paper-based medical records retrieval system has reached its limit, to the point where the security, safety and best interest of patients are at risk.

Dr. Ferguson noted that a modernised health information system takes into account the needs of new areas, such as health tourism, which brings a new set of challenges and opportunities for Jamaica.

Indicating that implementation of the NHIS would begin in earnest in the next financial year, Dr. Ferguson said it is timely that the Ministry has embarked on this key initiative for the strengthening and modernisation of the national health information system, under the leadership of the Health Information and Technologies Steering Committee.

The Minister noted that the Committee has made great strides since the planning process began in July, including:  conducting NHIS strategic planning; developed the detail strategy, work plan and costing for each phase objective; and is now at the final stage of consultation to present and validate the draft NHIS and e-health strategic plan.

Meanwhile, in his presentation, Health Informatics Consultant, Daniel Doane, emphasised the distinction between the NHIS and an electronic health data system (e-health). He noted that the NHIS is a broad concept, which includes a system of policies, legislation, governance, human, financial and technology resources, health indicators, data sources, data management processes, information products and the effective dissemination and use of information.

On the other hand, the WHO defines e-health as the use of information and communication technologies for improving the flow of information through electronic means, to support delivery of health services and the management of health systems.

Therefore, Mr. Doane said while both the NHIS and e-health are concerned with health information, the NHIS focuses on improving access to, and the quality of information that drives evidence-based decision making to improve health outcomes. E-health, although a part of this whole, focuses specifically on the use of information technology to improve the efficiency and quality of health care delivery.

The consultation was aimed at:  sensitizing stakeholders about the framework and current state of the NHIS; providing an overview of the strategic objectives and interventions of the plan; and reviewing the draft plan and validating interventions with the associated activities.

Strategic objectives of the plan include: strengthening the national capacity for the planning, co-ordination and implementation of health information system and e-health initiatives; ensuring that the required legislative, regulatory, and policy frameworks are in place, to enable an effective national health information system and appropriate use of e-health solutions; strengthening the organisational capacity for health information management within the Ministry of Health and the health regions; and improving the quality of health information.

Other objectives are: expanding the effective use of information technology to improve the quality, availability and continuity of healthcare and to improve the quality and timeliness of health information for decision-making; strengthening the national ICT infrastructure and support capacity to enable the effective, secure and reliable use of health information technologies; and using information to support evidence-based decision making at all levels and sectors of the health system.