Singapore

MOH wants all health providers to contribute to database

MOH to compel healthcare providers to upload medical records of patients

The Ministry of Health (MOH) wants to make it compulsory for all healthcare providers to upload data to the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system - from large hospitals all the way down to the neighbourhood GP clinic.

This means that every aspect of a person's medical history - including visits to doctors in the private sector, chronic medication, allergies and vaccination details - will be captured in these records.

These plans come on the back of a slow take-up rate from the private healthcare sector in the six years since the NEHR was launched in 2011.

Sharing medical data in a national electronic repository will make for more seamless treatment and save money for patients, said the Government.

Singapore is one of the first countries to have established such a comprehensive system.

The records, however, will not include details such as doctors' personal case notes, as they are meant chiefly to provide a summary.

Currently, most NEHR data comes from public sector institutions, such as public hospitals and polyclinics.

Only 3 per cent of the more than 4,000 private healthcare providers, including specialist clinics, nursing homes and hospices, contribute to the scheme.

This is despite the fact that a quarter of them have access to it and can view patient records.

"Patients can realise the full potential of the NEHR only if the data is comprehensive," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who made the announcement yesterday at the start of the three-day FutureHealth Conference.

"And for NEHR data to be comprehensive, every provider and healthcare professional needs to contribute relevant data to it."

The proposed changes will likely be tabled in Parliament next year. If approved, healthcare groups will be given a grace period of two to three years to make the necessary preparations.

Early adopters who start contributing data by June 2019 will be able to claim a one-off amount from MOH to offset the costs of upgrading their systems. A $20 million fund has been set aside for this, said Mr Gan.

He added that MOH will be organising workshops for doctors to help them understand the new requirements.

Workshops will also be conducted for IT vendors who help doctors provide such electronic clinical management services.

MOH plans to introduce the changes under the Healthcare Services Act so that all healthcare providers will be legally obliged to follow through with its plans. If the changes go through, those who do not comply will likely face penalties.

"This will not be an easy journey," said Mr Bruce Liang, MOH's chief information officer and chief executive of the Integrated Health Information Systems.

"However, it is a journey we must make, as a strong digital backbone is essential in meeting our patients' and healthcare system's needs in the future."

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Q&A on National Electronic Health Record system

Who will be able to access my health records?

Only doctors caring for you will be able to access your records.

What kind of health information will be captured in the (National Electronic Health Record) NEHR system?

The NEHR system will have a summary of your diagnosis, medications, allergies and vaccination records from both private and public healthcare providers.

It will also include operating theatre notes and procedures, as well as laboratory and radiology reports. It will not, however, include doctors' personal case notes of each consultation.

Can my insurance company or employer look up my records through their company doctor?

If anyone wants to look up your records for purposes other than your medical care, they will have to get your explicit consent.

What if I don't want anybody to look up my health records?

Currently, you can already opt out of the NEHR system. When you do so, your medical records will still be uploaded into the system, although doctors or other healthcare professionals will not be able to access them.

The authorities have said that this will not change for now, although they are open to feedback on the issue.

Will all my old health records be uploaded into the NEHR system?

No, data from old records will not be put into the system.

How safe is all this sensitive information?

The authorities have said they will take measures similar to what the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore uses to protect its tax database from hackers and other cyber-security threats. - LINETTE LAI

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