Health and Social Care Northern Ireland is set to complete the first stage of preparation for the nationwide roll-out of its electronic care record in the next two weeks.

The organisation, which signed a £9m, seven year contact with Orion Health in May for a portal-based ECR, has been building the infrastructure ready for the full deployment of the system next April.

The programme lead, Des O’Loan, told eHealth Insider that he is hopeful that the initial stage of the project will be completed shortly, describing it as the board’s “first big hurdle.”

“The infrastructure will be finished in the next couple of weeks. Orion are building their software and installing it, then we will backload two years of data so that when people log onto the system they will have a lot of information,” he said.

The roll-out of the system follows a successful ‘proof on concept’ pilot of the portal at the Ulster Hospital Dundonald, the Belfast City Hospital, and two general practices in 2009 and 2010.

The web-based ECR interfaces with key systems from the two hospitals, including the patient administration systems, laboratory, radiology and A&E systems.

The portal also displays a patient’s Emergency Care Summary, which takes patient medication and allergy details held on the GP clinical information systems.

O’Loan said that he has had many requests for other systems to be linked into the portal and plans are in place to gradually incorporate cardiology, diabetes, renal and social and mental health systems.

The system is currently accessed by more than 500 users and last week the organisation conducted the first trial of e-consultations, using the portal as the “foundation.”

Dr Roy Harper, a consultant endocrinologist at Ulster Hospital and a member of the project board, told EHI that the trial is aiming to improve relationships between colleagues in the acute and primary sectors while decreasing the number of patients that visit the hospital for treatment.

“We have a number of projects starting where the ECR is going to be the foundation and our first remote for e-consultations took place last Thursday.

“We will be using a whole practice list with a specific list disease who currently come to the hospital setting. Between myself and the GP we are going to come up with management plans for these patients, something that we couldn’t have done before,” he explained.

The Ulster Hospital is also set to roll-out Apple iPads to clinicians to provide them with access to the ECR at a patient’s bedside.

Read more about EHI reporter Chris Thorne’s visit to Belfast to see the portal in action in this week’s Insight section.