Steps have been developed for the operation of an electronic system to identify everyone using health and social care services.
The individual health identifiers will be assigned to patients for their lifetime.
New standards for the planned system were published yesterday by the State’s health watchdog, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), and are a broad set of basic requirements in the management of a national database.
Patients will be automatically given a unique number for life that can be used by health service providers, both public and private, in communications about their care.
The health identifiers have been developed so patient information can be shared safely within and across organisational boundaries. No medical or clinical information will be stored on individual health identifiers that will be kept on a national register.
Data in the health identifier record will identify the person and include a signature and photograph. It will also include a personal public service number, if any.
The HSE will work across three clinical areas this year to trial the use of the health identifiers, expected to take a number of years to fully implement. They will be included in the epilepsy electronic patient record, one multi-GP general practice and the electronic record within a hospice.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said individual health identifiers were a major step forward in modernising the health service.
“It will allow us to follow patients and staff as they move through the service in a way we currently can’t. This will improve patient safety, reduce duplication and errors and give us a huge amount of new data that we can use to make services more efficient and improve planning,” he said.
The HSE will be responsible for two national registers: one for individual health identifiers and another for health services provider identifiers. Two central computers will manage the system.
HSE chief information officer Richard Corbridge said the system could go live nationally once the final elements of legislation were in place and a privacy impact assessment was published.
Hiqa’s acting director of health information Rachel Flynn said the health identifiers were essential in ensuring patient safety and improving the sharing of information between health care practitioners.
“By uniquely identifying service users, it is possible to reduce the number of adverse events that may occur, such as giving the patient incorrect medication or vaccinations, or admitting an incorrect patient for surgery,” she said.
“The use of health identifiers will also reduce duplication and administration work.”
Ms Flynn said the standards would underpin the introduction of the health identifiers and guide the HSE in establishing and managing the national database.
Implementation of the standards will promote trust among the public, she said, emphasising personal information will be properly protected.
Some organisations, it emerged, may use individual health identifiers for health promotion, health service management or research.
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