The Welsh government will form a new health informatics board as part of moves to “refresh” its e-health policies, the health minister has announced.
Welsh health minister Mark Drakeford said a new e-health strategy will be developed to update the government’s e-health and care policies, with a greater focus on improving patient access to services and information.
Drakeford said the government’s Informing Healthcare programme, set up in 2003 to improve how healthcare services information was shared, has been a “ground-breaking” success.
At present, 84% of GP records are available for use in Welsh GP out-of-hours services, two-thirds of all practices offer online booking, and more than half of all patient referrals by GPS for specialist hospital care are now sent electronically.
Drakeford said the government wants to build on the principles of the programme while adapting them to changing services and community needs.
“To do this we need to exploit new technological opportunities and novel approaches to implementation while at all times ensuring that confidential and sensitive patient information is secure,” he said.
Drakeford added the policy will be developed in conjunction with health boards, NHS trusts and local authorities in Wales, using clinical input from health professionals and feedback from service users.
Among the aims of the refresh is a greater focus on improving patient access to services and their own information, putting a greater focus on prevention, and making it easier to communicate with the NHS.
One possibility is using video conferencing to allow patients and healthcare professionals to talk to each other and provide remote monitoring for people with certain health conditions, while another is providing mobile health services in rural areas to improve access.
While the expectation is for health and social care data to be accessible “where and when it is needed”, any increase in access to people’s information will only take place with their consent, he said.
Drakeford will also chair a new informatics board to “maintain momentum and focus” on the strategy, with officials currently working on governance arrangements for the board.
The government has had a strong emphasis on e-health, with healthcare a key focus of the Digital Wales strategy launched in 2010 to make Wales a “truly digital nation” by 2020.
In 2012, the government agreed a three-year Health Technologies Fund worth a total of £25m.
Last December, Drakeford announced a £9.5m Health Technology and Telehealth Fund to support the introduction of new technologies in non-hospital settings.