Every person in the country who uses health and social care services is to be given an ‘Individual Health Identifier' (IHI) - a number that is unique to them and that will last their lifetime.
According to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), the aim of the IHI is to accurately identify each person and to enable health and social care ‘to be delivered to the right patient, in the right place and at the right time'.
It is not the same as an electronic health record, which is an electronic version of a person's medical history. In fact, no medical or clinical information will be stored on your IHI record.
Instead, it is intended that health service providers will use your IHI when communicating with other health service providers about your care, e.g. if your GP takes a blood test from you, your IHI will be included with the request. The hospital will return both your results and IHI, which will allow your GP to safely identify you when they receive these results.
"IHIs are essential in ensuring patient safety and improving the sharing of healthcare information between healthcare 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," explained HIQA's acting director of health information, Rachel Flynn.
She noted that the use of IHIs will also reduce duplication and administration work, ‘making them both time and cost effective'
"IHIs are the cornerstone of eHealth systems and are key for implementing electronic health records and eHealth solutions such as ePrescribing. These electronic systems will greatly improve patient safety," she insisted.
HIQA has now published new standards for the introduction of IHIs in Ireland. These standards include basic requirements that will underpin their introduction, and will guide the establishment and management of the IHI national database.
The standards were developed following a public consultation, which produced ‘extremely positive' feedback, Ms Flynn said.
The IHI operator will be a business unit of the HSE and it will be responsible for the safe storage of all personal data associated with the identifiers.
The IHIs will be piloted in three clinical areas this year - the Epilepsy Electronic Patient Record, one multi-GP general practice and the Electronic Medical Record within one hospice.
According to the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, the introduction of IHIs is ‘a major step forward in modernising our health service'.
"It will allow us to follow patients and staff as they move through the health 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 added.
More information on the HIQA IHI standards, including frequently asked questions, can be viewed here