The pilot project will begin in July as part of Bhutan’s e-Health Action Plan

Health: As part of the health ministry’s vision to move away from paper-based medical records and enhance use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), an electronic Patient Information System (ePIS) will be introduced in Paro next month.

The pre-pilot project (phase I) in Paro is expected to last about six months. The health ministry will spend Nu 1.5M while the World Health Organisation (WHO) will spend about USD 210,000 for technical support and capacity building activities.

The ePIS will be piloted in all Basic Health Units I and IIs and the district hospital.

Following this, phase two of the project, also expected to last about six months, will expand to two more dzongkhags and cost about USD 300,000 after which it will be implemented nationwide. The overall duration of the project is expected to last four years with an estimated cost of about USD 2.5 million (M).

Going nationwide, which is part of phase three of the project, including referral hospitals, is expected to last about three years. The estimated cost is about USD 2M, but subject to reliable internet connectivity in all health facilities across Bhutan.

WHO officials said that health officials in Paro will be trained first after which the system will be rolled out for the pre-pilot (Phase 1) of the project.

Officials said that Paro was chosen given its proximity to Thimphu, which makes it easier to monitor, supervise, and instantly troubleshoot issues. Besides, the ideal distribution of human resources for health, minimal investment for infrastructure and Paro being a role model for a district hospital were also considered.

Health ministry’s director general of department of medical services, Dr Ugen Dophu, said that the ministry wants to enhance use of ICT in the health sector. “If we can use it properly, it’ll improve quality of services for patients and public health activities besides improving accountability and transparency,” he said.

As part of the ICT vision, ePIS is one of the projects to be implemented wherein details of the patient’s illness and investigations will be recorded in the system. If a patient is referred to Thimphu from Trashigang, even if they misplace their prescription, health officials in Thimphu can refer the details on the system using the patient’s code.

Along with these, the ministry will also start telemedicine and telecommunication facilities that would help health officials discuss diseases and issues and seek expert opinion from specialists in the country. Similarly, plans to introduce a drug inventory system and health information system wherein the disease trend in dzongkhags and gewogs would be recorded are also in the pipeline.

The drug inventory, according to Dr Ugen Dophu, would help utilisation of drugs before expiry. “We’ll know where there is shortage and excess within the dzongkhags and beyond without having to discard the expired medicines,” he said.

The planned ICT services, according to Dr Ugen Dophu, would depend on reliable and good internet services without which issues are bound to arise.

WHO’s medical officer for health systems strengthening, Dr Suraj M Shrestha said that WHO is of the view that the ePIS is aligned with Bhutan’s long-term vision to move away from paper-based medical records and towards digital, longitudinal patient information that can be accessed across all health facilities in Bhutan.

“By introducing ePIS, the health ministry can aspire for better health outcomes, decision-making, and ensured continuity of care,” Dr Suraj M Shrestha said. With improved access and quality of data, the goal of ePIS to is generate evidence-based information for medical interventions, research and decision-making.

He also said that the project is a sustainable and interoperable e-Health solution to further improve health service delivery and develop a more resilient health system as a part of the larger national e-Health vision and action plan that will respond to health and development goals in the true spirit of measuring and achieving Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals.

Given these plans, a three-day workshop to draw a roadmap on Bhutan’s e-Health Action Plan ended yesterday in Paro. The workshop brought together various experts and partners from the Asian Development Bank, UNICEF, AeHIN, MEASURE Evaluation and national key stakeholders to share their experiences and help identify support for eHealth efforts in Bhutan.

The congregation was also expected to set the stage for development of a national eHealth vision and action plan that will respond to health and development goals. Besides, a roadmap for implementation was framed that will reflect the country’s priorities in eHealth with a convergence vision for works on health to avoid duplication of eHealth platforms and foster interoperability.

Experts also reviewed current and planned health information systems and eHealth solutions, and synthesise lessons learned and best practices, besides identifying priorities, key actions, and investments towards developing cost-effective, sustainable and interoperable e-Health solutions.

WHO Bhutan’s country representative, Dr Ornella Lincetto, in her opening speech said that the prospect of using e-Health solutions was promising with the rapid increase and access to telecommunication networks and the decline in the cost of devices and services, thus creating opportunities to use e-Health in delivering health care in a much more innovative way.

“In the process, it’s important to avoid duplication of e-Health platforms, foster interoperability, and develop systems that are user friendly and affordable” said Dr Ornella Lincetto.

Kinga Dema