The Ministry of Health and Welfare started offering subsidies to hospitals in 2010 for Internet development and to promote platforms for digitizing medical records. At present, 2,000 clinics and 142 hospitals in Taiwan have entered the electronic medical record exchange system. Two years from now it is anticipated that Taiwan will become the first nation to have a nationwide medical records system that links every hospital in the country. However, the financial burden on hospitals for setting up an operational electronic medical records system is formidable, and although each hospital might be satisfied with its own Internet connection, there are still complaints about how inconvenient it can be when trying to access medical records from other hospitals.
Taiwan Community Hospital Association and Airen Hospital president Hsieh Wu-chi says that running community hospitals is no easy task, especially as subsidies are being cut year after year, adding that it cost more than NT$3 million (US$101,372) to set up a digital imaging system able to save communications, tests and discharge summaries at Airen Hospital, while accessing the inter-hospital Internet connection also costs hundreds of thousands of NT dollars, he says.
Tri-Service General Hospital receives subsidies from the National Defense Medical Bureau, so it spent only NT$5 million to complete the entire hospital’s electronic system, which can now be utilized at 13 of the National Defense hospitals. The amount of money that each hospital is able to inject varies, while praise for digitization is relatively uniform. Chien Hsu-sheng, head of the IT department at Tri-Service General Hospital, says that in the past when a doctor wrote a prescription for a patient at the hospital it had to be delivered by hand to the pharmacy before the pharmacy would fill the order, which would typically take about an hour, but now that the system is digitized, pharmacies are able to automatically receive prescriptions as soon as a doctor writes them.
With the digitization of medical records, wastewater is no longer being produced from developing photos either. Fan Chung-mei of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital’s Healthcare Management Department says that 60 ping (198.35m2) had to be used every year just to store new medical records at Linkou’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, but this has now be been cut by 70 percent. Time previously taken to make copies of paper medical records is now spared as well.
Hsieh says that the inter-hospital platform is sluggish, taking 45 seconds just to access a patient’s medical record from the National Health Insurance Administration on the Internet, adding that reviewing inter-hospital digital images can take several minutes. Hsieh hopes that digital medical records can reduce repeating the same tests, but says that patients will not necessarily be appreciative.
Hsu Ming-hui, head of the ministry’s Department of Information Management, says that since the central government began implementing the “project for expediting the digitalization of medical records at hospitals and clinics” in 2010, it is estimated that 48 health clinics in remote areas and half of all hospitals in Taiwan will be online by the end of the year. Over the next two years, NT$200 million in subsidies will be handed out with the goal of having hospitals in all areas and all of the more than 20,000 clinics online as well, Hsu says, adding that hospitals failing to cooperate will be subject to fines.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)