IT boost to keep health care humming

IT boost to keep health care humming

SINGAPORE - The entire public health-care information technology system will move to cloud computing starting end of this year or early next year.

This means all public hospitals and institutes, polyclinics, community hospitals and most nursing homes will share the same computing resources, all hosted under the same roof.

For the sector, it means significant cost savings as each institution will no longer have to maintain its own IT system. Doctors should be able to access the entirety of a patient's records faster, through a system less prone to breakdowns.

And for patients, it means a more secure system to protect their medical information, different parts of which will no longer be located on different systems, said iHis chief executive officer Chong Yoke Sin.

iHis, set up in 2008, runs all the IT services for public health care, including at specialist centres and polyclinics.

Dr Chong said building the health cloud, or hCloud, will cost $50 million for the first 10 years. It will take about two years to transfer existing information stored at the various institutes to the hCloud.

Once it is fully set up by 2017, the economies of scale from the hCloud will halve the cost the public sector is now spending on such services, she said.

It will make retrieving information faster. In some hospitals, patient information still resides in different places, such as at the emergency department, intensive care unit or at the specialist clinics.

With hCloud, all the information will reside at one location, which will be kept secret for security reasons. This will free up between 500 and 1,000 sq ft of space in the hospitals and polyclinics that can be converted into clinical use.

Dr Chong said hCloud will also speed up the setting up of new applications, as there will be no need to buy and set up additional computers. The hCloud will have enough capacity to host new applications or expand existing ones.

The hCloud will also offer greater security as users do not store any of the information in their terminals, so there will be no fear of leaks even if laptops or tablets are stolen. Instead, they will draw down the information as needed on dumb laptops or tablets, which can be remotely switched off if necessary.

As it will be a totally private system, it will not be at risk of being hacked into. "The idea is to improve the resiliency of the systems," said Dr Chong.

Nursing homes that subscribe to NHelp - an IT system offered free to them by the Ministry of Health (MOH) for three years, and at subsidised rates after that - will also be hosted on hCloud. Such nursing homes will no longer need to buy and maintain their own systems, as NHelp provides all the programmes they need, such as those for finance and rostering.

With the more robust system, no more than a maximum of 22 minutes of unexpected downtime per month is anticipated. Other advantages include no slowing down in information retrieval, even during peak usage, and backups for even non-critical information.

This article was first published on Oct 12, 2014.
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