Electronically maintained data system vital for Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Services


By Steve A. Morrell

Dr Jeong-Wook Seo, Professor of Pathology at the Seoul National University College of Medicine, South Korea, specializing in the pathology of congenital and adult heart diseases, was in Sri Lanka to participate as the keynote speaker in the 22nd Annual Scientific Sessions & International Conference of The College of Medical Administrators of Sri Lanka.

He is also the Director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Health Information and Library Services and Chief Pathologist at Seoul National University. He is the executive vice-president of the Asia Pacific Association of Medical Journal Editors (APAME). 

"I have visited many countries, but Sri Lanka is very clean. And people are industrious. Quite like South Korea", Dr Jeong-Wook Seo said in an interview with The Sunday Island.

Q: How did you get involved with this subject in Sri Lanka?

I am one of the experts on ICT in South Korea, and I know Dr. Rukshan Bellana as he was in South Korea on an official assignment. I will be in Sri Lanka for seven days. I have already met many people from the Western province.

I will be meeting with medical people and administrators. I am a Pathologist, that’s my specialty, but I also work for ICT programs in hospitals. I am interested in electronic medical records; and activity for hospital services and internet services and so on. Today, I met people with hospital authorities from the Panadura area. They have a very peculiar record- keeping system. Records are maintained only for outpatients.

I was also in charge of electronic records in my hospital for 12 years ago. The ICT system is necessary in every aspect for hospital services. There are several different aspects to maintain these records. One is for human life. Also privacy is a big issue. We are not going to invest in big services. But what I would bring are baseline services. Also such services will improve by making them transparent for analysis, and such information could be used to treat patients in a more professional manner.

In Panadura, they are doing a very difficult job. Unfortunately, their finances are insufficient to be fully involved to be successful. The first stage was a success.

Q: What do you mean by the first stage?

They have done some work, but their limits at this stage gave room to expand. The second stage will be for in-patient services, which is a more ethical task for medical records. They have not started that service yet.

The third stage would be for interconnectivity between these stages. It is a very challenging issue. I don’t think it is very easy. But, their ambition to do it is remarkable.

Q: How far advanced are we in terms of the subject you are talking about?

In my viewpoint, consistency is very much primitive. Our system in Korea is far, far advanced. To get to that stage, it takes much money. However, what had been done here is not comparable to the Korean denominator, but what is being done here should be spread to all nine provinces.

Q: For us to reach any sort of standard how long will it take?

It depends. There are two big issues. One is leadership of responsible persons and secondly, priority. There are many challenging issues within this program. Doctors don’t want to make more activity feeding in data, they just want to write. It is easy to write, rather than in-put data. These are challenging issues. If the new systems are to be accomplished, it would take about two years. If on the conversely they think it is not necessary, it would take about 20 years.

Q: Medically, what are standards of doctors here?

There are many different standards. That question cannot be answered with a simple explanation. That’s when we need to have data exchange systems. If such data is maintained manually, there could be many errors. It is, therefore, essential there should be an electronically maintained data system.

Q: Obviously, we do not have the technological input that is necessary. In your position what could you do to have the necessary technology in place?

The WHO and ADB, already knows what is lacking here. I cannot quite answer that question.

Q: After your visit here, you would be conveying what you have observed?

My observation is that those involved in the ICT services are dedicated to the job. If there is money, they could improve such services in leaps and bounds. One important factor I observed was there was no progress. They are still using monitors that are over 20 years old. That is one glaring indicator that things are slow.

There are two kinds of medical services here. One is State run, which is completely free. In private hospitals, people have to pay for the services. The problem is this, people cannot afford to pay.

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