A secure clinical e-mail system for Irish health services is now being extended to community pharmacists across Ireland.

Healthmail is the system provided by the Office of Chief Information Officer in the Health Service Executive (HSE), and initially went live in November 2014 for GPs.

From 30 March, the system was made available for community pharmacies, with registration opening 3 April.

Jack Shanahan, pharmacist and chair of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU)’s IT steering group, told Digital Health News in a statement that the key benefit of Healthmail for pharmacists is secure communication.

“A typical communication would be a hospital asking a pharmacy for a current list of dispensed medication for a patient. At the moment this is typically given by fax. Sending this type of information by secure mail is a more satisfactory method for all concerned.”

There are about 1,900 pharmacies in Ireland and about 5,800 registered pharmacists.

Shanahan said “while our target is to get 100% of the pharmacies registered, we would be happy to see at least 30% registered within a few months”.

Challenges in signing up pharmacists include inertia, training, critical mass and reliability, said Shanahan.

“There needs to be sufficient people using the email system routinely. There is no greater disincentive to continued adoption than a lack of response to an email.”

Regarding training, Shanahan said, “most people are comfortable with the system they use at the moment. We need to encourage, cajole and incentivise these colleagues to get on board”.

A spokewoman for HSE said, “it is hoped to roll out the service to the wider healthcare professional community during 2017”.

In January community pharmacies in England were being pushed to switch to NHSmail or miss out on a £75 million incentive-based funding pot.

NHS Digital said it wants national coverage achieved during 2017, and while NHSmail has been available to community pharmacies since 2008 the uptake has been slow.

Shanahan was doubtful of such a scheme occurring in Ireland, “perhaps I have grown cynical, but I had to stifle a guffaw at the thought of a similar scheme here”.

“It’s been many years since the state sought to support technological innovation in pharmacy.”

Healthmail statistics from eHealth Ireland said that in March 2017 there were 1,487 registered users and in the whole of 2016 107,269 messages were sent.

For pharmacists, the Healthmail service is being launched by the IPU and eHealth Ireland.

Richard Corbridge, Chief Information Officer, HSE, and CEO of eHealth Ireland provided a statement to Digital Health News saying that in 2017, “the ePharmacy programme will add to the pilot sites currently delivering ePrescriptions in the south, the programme will also put in place a single drug catalogue for Ireland, implement the Medicines Reconciliation tool from acute to community and enable a review of all hospital pharmacy systems”.