Electronic referrals to replace GPs' paper notes
The age of the scrawled doctor's referral note is nearing an end.
The country's GPs will be able to ditch paper and stamps from March and instead directly refer their patients to hospital via computer.
The electronic referrals will mean an end to letters in envelopes for doctors who are sending their patients for specialist or other appointments, creating new efficiencies, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said.
He was speaking as new technology aimed at improving a range of areas in the health service was unveiled by the HSE's chief information officer, Richard Corbridge.
Mr Varadkar said: "During the recession, our health service fell behind when it came to information technology. The recovery gives us an opportunity to catch-up."
Mr Corbridge said all hospitals should be ready to receive the GPs' electronic referrals by the end of March and the advantage for the patient is that, if it is done while they are in the surgery, they will get a receipt.
It gives reassurance the appointment request has landed.
"On average an envelope and stamp referral goes around 18 hands. This is much more secure. GPs are very receptive to it. It means less administration."
Mr Corbridge said the advantage of playing catch-up when it comes to technology is that Ireland can become something of a world leader - developing systems which are not just about the appliance of technology, but led by health professionals themselves.
Successful use of technology is already benefiting patients with epilepsy and haemophilia, while Temple Street Children's Hospital has made major headway filing patient records electronically.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has proposed a new system for allocating the rural practice allowance of €16,000 to rural GPs. It means the number of practices getting this top-up allowance should increase from 160 to 250, allowing more rural communities to retain a doctor.
Any sole practice with fewer than 2,000 people living within three miles will be eligible for the payment, said a spokesman.
He said the Government "is keen to implement the measures as soon as possible".
They are being considered by the Irish Medical Organisation.