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Speech by Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food


Following is the speech (English only) by the Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Mrs Carrie Yau, at the Health Informatics Seminar 2004: 'eCitizen Health Records - Future Directions' today (March 6):

Dr Wong, Dr Fang, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I'm honoured to be here today to open the Health Informatics Seminar 2004. The Hong Kong Society of Medical Informatics had the vision to promote the development of medical informatics as long ago as 1987, and I'm grateful to the HKSMI for organising this seminar.

The impact of IT on our economy and way of life is taken as axiomatic nowadays. Our mobile phone penetration reached over 100 per cent in 2003, and broadband reaches nearly all buildings. Our community is adapting well to life in the Internet era; 70 per cent of Internet users have used e-government services. In terms of e-readiness, we were ranked first in Asia in 2003 by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

IT has also been playing an important role in our health sector. Its importance in safeguarding public health was best demonstrated in last year's SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak. I am sure many of you have heard about the e-SARS system of the Hospital Authority (HA). It greatly facilitated the entry of information from frontline health care professionals and the subsequent reporting of confirmed cases to the Department of Health (DH) during the outbreak. Together with the SARS-CCIS (Case Contact Information System) of DH and the MIIDSS (Major Incident Investigation and Disaster Support System) of the Police Force, we were able to quickly trace the contacts of SARS patients, and identify hot spots and buildings requiring investigation. This innovative use of IT was undoubtedly a crucial factor in the containment of SARS. I am also glad to announce that the integration of the MIIDSS with e-SARS and SARS-CCIS, a paradigm we named as "Policing Disease", was one of the 16 health-related initiatives short-listed for the Stockholm Challenge Award 2003/04 among nearly 900 competing projects from 107 countries and places.

To prevent a comeback of SARS, or the outbreak of other infectious diseases, we need to enhance our information management capability across all sectors. This was, in fact, the recommendation made by the SARS Expert Committee last year. In this regard, the Government and the HA are developing the Communicable Disease Information System (CDIS). The CDIS will collect data on communicable diseases from both the medical and non-medical sectors, and will assist outbreak investigations and disease surveillance through state-of-the-art analysis tools and computational models. More specifically, the CDIS will capture data from medical practitioners working in both the private and the public sector, public and private laboratories, and sentinel networks in schools, elderly homes and private clinics. By monitoring things like abnormal patterns of clinical symptoms, or perhaps a sudden upsurge in the consumption of a specific drug, the CDIS would enable an alert to be triggered, assisting the health authorities to provide prompt remedial actions to prevent disease outbreaks. We will submit our funding proposal to the legislature as soon as possible. Upon its completion, the CDIS will serve as a critical tool for the proposed Centre for Health Protection.

Being one of the world's mature e-Government performers, the Government has been taking a proactive role in promoting the development and adoption of IT in Hong Kong. One of the better-known programmes is the smart ID card initiative. Technically speaking, in addition to traditional identification functions for the Immigration Department, the chip of the smart card can facilitate non-immigration functions, like secure and accurate electronic authentication before allowing access to medical data of a citizen or a patient stored in a back-end database of health authorities, hospitals and clinics. The potential advantages for frontline medical personnel are obvious. Medical staff could obtain key information when, for example, a patient is unconscious. Duplicated medical tests could be minimised, and treatment could be speeded up.

Of course, there are privacy issues that need to be addressed before any initiative of this nature could be implemented. But that should not prevent you and your colleagues from continuing to make innovative suggestions and letting us know how the public and private health sectors can move forward together leveraging the advancement of technology for the benefit of our citizens.

I'm sure you will hear about other exciting new developments during today's seminar and future seminars organised by the Society. So, without further ado, allow me to declare this seminar open.

Thank you very much.

Ends/Saturday, March 6, 2004


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