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Health + Tech | Towards a Caribbean data space

Published:Sunday | February 9, 2020 | 12:00 AMDoug Halsall/Contributor

Not many Caribbean islands have invested in digitised healthcare. The information on this is scanty at best. There are, of course, private health facilities that have been using technology as part of healthcare management for years, but from a national perspective, nothing much has been happening on that front. Jamaica is not the only country in this hemisphere lagging behind. I believe Barbados is among the very few in the Caribbean region that has truly taken on digital transformation of healthcare and has been acting on it at an acceptable pace.

This is while the European Union (EU) is having a discussion about putting in place a European data space which would in effect allow for interoperability across member countries. Interoperability is what facilitates connectivity, which is critical to a healthcare environment. It allows each part of the system to communicate with the other so that each can experience the full gamut of digitisation. This benefits both patient and medical practitioner.

The success of digital technology for any organisation will lie in its ability to share information across time and space with other organisations, sources, devices, whether local or foreign. This is what Europe is trying to achieve as part of the establishment of its data space. It would mean that patients can easily access care in any country that subscribes to this, with easily accessible electronic medical records (EMR) and quick communication among healthcare professionals, facilities and caregivers.

The United Kingdom has been ensuring that its National Health Service (NHS) is in a position to adequately manage its data across all facilities. To achieve this, the NHS has put in place what they have called an interoperability toolkit which is “a set of common specifications, frameworks and implementation guides. It supports interoperability within local organisations and across local health and social care communities”. (source: https://digital.nhs.uk/services/interoperability-toolkit). What this will do is ensure that patient care is not bound by time and space.

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR US

Although we are far from having any such joint discussion and action regarding interoperability, this is an opportunity for us. We already in theory have the infrastructure in place via the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to start. Like the EU, the goal of CARICOM is to ‘promote integration and cooperation among members’, which in essence would result in a convergence in culture, economy, trade, travel and now possibly healthcare management.

Along this vein, the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), which is one of a number of regional institutions, is already being digitised. The hospital, although located in Jamaica, serves all the countries of CARICOM. Imagine the added value we could get from the UHWI being directly aligned digitally to other healthcare associated regional facilities in CARICOM, such as the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and other member states’ public hospitals?

Outside of that, patients across the Caribbean could be comfortable going to any health facility within CARICOM, knowing that their electronic medical records would be easily accessible and their doctor can remotely connect to any other, regardless of location, to discuss their care. This augurs well for continuity of care and would yield better and quicker results overall. Cross-border access to e-prescriptions also has added benefits. Prescriptions can be sent directly to any pharmacy and doctors can track the life cycle of the prescription from the transmission to the filling. Border, time and space restrictions would be removed, allowing the patient to have access wherever in CARICOM they may be. Sharing of health resources could also be done much easier.

The data that would be gathered from this to allow for proper evidence-based planning would be invaluable. Imagine if an outbreak can be detected the moment it begins in one Caribbean island, allowing the others to prepare their systems and population, as well as pull together quickly to assist the affected ones? That alone would be a tremendous achievement.

We may seem late to the game, but we have the opportunity to learn from Europe’s process and use that as an example to develop our own. A Caribbean-wide e-health infrastructure will take some time to put in place if we even decide to go that route. However, the benefits are almost immeasurable. This approach, if implemented correctly, can revolutionise healthcare for the entire region and significantly improve population health overall.

- Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems Doug.halsall@gmail.com