Information Technology - The Means for a Better Health Care Service

The objective of the Norwegian government within the health care and social services sector is that the needs of the individual patient or user shall comprise the framework conditions for the services offered. A good interaction between all actors within the sector shall ensure that everyone experiences that the services are there for them, regardless of whether it is health care enterprises, the municipalities, county governments or others that are offering all or parts of the service.

The health care and social services sector is labour- and information-intensive. The proportion of elderly citizens in Norway will increase in the years to come. This will result in a larger number of people in need of care and an increased need for collaboration between specialist health services, general practitioners, and nursing and health care services. The challenges for local government service programmes are also numerous in many areas, among these mental health care. Further, we also witness the need for the health care system to assume a more comprehensive responsibility for users with multiple ailments.


I believe that the investment in information technology (IT) is an important measure towards meeting the great challenges before us. Good IT application will in this context mean the organization of the quick and secure exchange of information between collaborating parties and the many different service links. The Norwegian Health Network was officially opened on 10 March 2004. With the establishment of the Norwegian Health Network, a nationwide electronic highway is now in place, with all the security, capacity and accessibility required for the exchange of information in the health care and social services sector. Physicians, laboratories, health care enterprises, pharmacies, the National Insurance Administration and other actors within the health care and social services sector can log on to the Health Network to exchange information and messages as well as offer professional support, medical and administrative services.

 

The Ministry of Health has assigned the National Centre for Telemedicine (NST) at the University Hospital in Northern Norway the role of serving as a national competence centre for telemedicine. NST shall ensure national competence building and competence distribution within its own field of professional expertise. NST has worked with telemedicine for more than 10 years and has a sound understanding of the particular challenges the field represents. NST is an internationally known organization and was chosen as a World Health Organization collaborating centre for telemedicine in 2003.

 

The opportunities within telemedicine are many and the user groups extremely diverse. New information and service offers through the Norwegian Health Network will reinforce user influence in the sector. This involves, among other things, the individual user to a larger extent having the opportunity to choose the services he or she wants and where the services are to be received – in a nursing home, care facility or in his or her own home. Telemedical solutions provide new options for monitoring and receiving medication at home, as an alternative to hospitalization.

 

Telemedicine also makes it possible for physicians to consult with specialists via videoconferences with the patient present. In this way the specialist can provide support for the physician in assessing the patient's health condition. Patients will thus be spared long and costly journeys. The specialist will eventually pass expertise on to the individual physician, thereby making him or her better qualified to assess whether or not a patient must be hospitalized.

 

The realization of IT in the form of quality and efficiency is about much more than technology. The limitations and possibilities do not lie first and foremost in the technology, but in how it is applied. Choice of technological solutions, the organization of enterprises and work processes, competence, legislation, organizational culture and economy are all important aspects of achieving gains. It is only when these factors interact productively that a qualitatively better and more effective health care sector can become a reality.

 

Ansgar Gabrielsen
The Norwegian Minister of Health

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