PH gov’t launches eHealth system

Believed to provide easier access to health in the future, especially in the country’s far-flung areas, the government will soon intensify the country’s eHealth system.

During the first Philippine eHealth Summit in Pasay City on Tuesday, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) laid out its programs and other plans that would help achieve the government’s goal of more accessible health information and services, and universal health care for all Filipinos.

The said massive project is a collaboration of DOH, DOST, some of their attached agencies, and other stakeholders like the academe and the private sector.

One of which is the establishment of this Philippine Health Information Exchange (PHIE), a centralized system of health-related registries and linkage systems. PHIE, for one, can store basic medical records of patients admitted in government health centers to ease the decision-making of health professionals.

PHIE could also be used in claiming benefits by patients enrolled in the insurance coverage of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The said system would work through the help of devices such as RxBox, where patients could be diagnosed through medical sensors inside the device. Blood pressure level, oxygen level in the patient’ blood and the heart’s capacity to pump blood, among others, could be monitored by the RxBox.

The records in one RxBox unit could, upon the patient’s consent, be stored in the PHIE and accessed in other available RxBox units nationwide through connectivity means like the newly-launched ‘white space technology’ by the DOST.

The RxBox was developed by DOST, in partnership with DOH, and the University of the Philippines-Manila (UPM).

Currently, 20 RxBox units are available in selected government health centers nationwide, mostly in rural areas, and about a hundred more would be given by the middle of this year.

Meanwhile, the white space technology would be deployed in 500 towns and villages by December this year, with most in the Visayas area which was hit by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) last year.

Government officials present in the convention expressed hope that these programs under the eHealth system would help make health information available “in the clouds” or anywhere nationwide, and give easier access to government health services and benefits.

The government expects that by December 2016, its about 2,000 hospitals and health facilities will be included in the PHIE, and will also be able to service a target of 85 million Filipinos who may be enrolled in Philhealth.


Security, privacy issues

In a briefing with reporters, officials assured that the eHealth would continue to improve with spaces needing to be covered, especially in issues of security and privacy of patient data.

Dr. Portia Marcelo, director of the UPM-National Telehealth Center, said that concerned agencies would make sure devices like RxBox would pass standards so that data would be secured and be accurate at the same time.

She also said that training would be given to health professionals like doctors, nurses and midwives on the proper usage of such devices.

However, she noted that the storage of patient data in the PHIE and any medical decision that would be derived from it would be upon the agreement made by the patient and attending doctor.

Meanwhile, DOST Secretary Mario Montejo said that RxBox units are still undergoing field tests to assess what kinds of encryption keys would be used to secure medical data.

“We would make sure na ang pag-secure ng data ay parang pag-secure ng pera sa bangko,” he added.

Moreover, in his talk during a parallel session in the summit, Alan Alegre of DOST-Information and Communication Technology Office told participants that as soon as eHealth is ready, the law requires that strict privacy is needed in so-called sensitive data, like the medical-related ones.

He cited Section 13 of Republic Act (RA) 10173, or the Data Privacy Act of 2012, wherein the processing of so-called sensitive information, including those for medical purposes, should be prohibited.

He added that privacy of medical data would depend on the following, the measures to be drafted by the leadership, like laws or orders; the standards to be set like the patient’s informed consent for either uploading of data or de-identification; and how concerned persons would handle the data.


Enabling law needed

On the other hand, Marcelo and Dr. Jaime Montoya of DOST-Philippine Center for Health Research and Development also stressed the need for an enabling law for eHealth system to be completely rolled out throughout the country, both in government and private health institutions.

They both mentioned that a bill was filed in Congress about two years ago, but did not push through. Also, Marcelo said that DOH is drafting an administrative order which would promote utilization of eHealth in public health institutions.

“With all of these developments – our ability to set standards and the Data Privacy Act – we can change the milieu, so with more consideration, we can push the eHealth Bill into a law,” Marcelo said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Crispinita Valdez, director of DOH-Information Management Service, presented the draft of an executive order (EO) that would push for the implementation of eHealth.

The EO asked for an adoption of a strategic framework and plan for eHealth, and the founding of an eHealth Committee and the Philippine Health Information Network (PHIN), which would be composed of DOH, DOST, their attached offices, and the private sector.


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