Proposed National eHealth System and Services Act approved by house panel in the Philippines

The landmark measure provides for an organised and structured application of electronic health or "eHealth" integrated in the regular workflow of healthcare facilities.
By Dean Koh
10:30 PM

Photo of a session of the Congress of the Philippines.

Last week, the House Committee on Health in the Philippines House of Representatives chaired by Rep. Angelina Tan approved a substitute bill seeking to establish the National eHealth Systems and Services that shall deliver health services through cost-effective and secure information and communications technology (ICT).

WHY IT MATTERS

The landmark measure provides for an organised and structured application of electronic health or "eHealth" integrated in the regular workflow of healthcare facilities.

Specifically, it seeks to utilise ICT to deliver health services which has the potential to be profitable, improve quality, change the conditions of practice, and improve access to healthcare, especially in rural and other medically underserved areas.

The bill also aims to facilitate the exchange and access to secured personal health information, ensure harmonisation or integration, alignment, and interoperability among various eHealth initiatives, and facilitate inter-agency and inter-sectoral coordination at various levels of governance in both public and private sectors.

The measure mandates the Department of Health (DOH) as the lead agency to implement the Act and provides for the creation of an inter-agency and multi-sectoral National eHealth Steering Committee to serve as an executive body of the Philippine eHealth System and Services (PNeHSS).

Among the changes approved and introduced in the substitute bill is the provision for public-private partnership of eHealth Services. The bill mandates the DOH to promulgate the rules regarding the participation of the private sector in the provision of eHealth services and solutions, including public-private partnerships and other suitable arrangements.

An additional provision on research and development was also introduced and will be accomplished through the formulation of expanded eHealth research priority areas under the National Unified Health Research Agenda (NUHRA) as well as the establishment of knowledge hub and research centers for eHealth that study, among others, capacity building, health technology assessment, knowledge management, standards development, and research utilisation.

The approved bill also details violations of the Act and corresponding liabilities and penalties.

For instance, the unauthorised processing of personal information shall be penalised by imprisonment ranging from one to three years and a fine of P500,000 to P2 million. The unauthorised processing of sensitive personal information shall be punished by imprisonment of three to six years and P500,000 to P4 million.

Other violations include accessing personal information and personal sensitive information due to negligence; improper disposal of personal information and sensitive personal information; procession of personal information and personal sensitive information due to negligence for unauthorised purposes; unauthorised access or intentional breach; concealment of security breaches involving sensitive personal information; malicious disclosure; and unauthorised disclosure.

Any person who commits a combination or series of these acts shall be subject to imprisonment ranging from three years to six years and a fine of P1 million to P5 million.

THE LARGER TREND

According to the official eHealth website by the DOH, two main challenges of the Philippines’ health system are access to health care services, and access to real time information for decision making. 70% of the population living in rural areas are still struggling with no or limited access to quality inpatient and outpatient care services.

Delayed access to timely, reliable, accurate, and complete health information contributes to the challenges faced by decision makers. This condition is further exacerbated by various health data coming from disparate systems that use differing formats, lacking harmonisation, and putting additional strain on already compromised data quality.

Based on the Philippines eHealth Strategic Framework and Plan 2014-20, the DOH envisions that “By 2020, eHealth will enable widespread access to health care services, health information, and securely share and exchange client’s information in support to a safer, quality health care, more equitable and responsive health system for all the Filipino people by transforming the way information is used to plan, manage, deliver and monitor health services.”

With the proposed National eHealth Systems and Services Act approved, there is some progress made in the governance component of the eHealth vision but much of the real work will lie in the establishment of the necessary foundations – infrastructures, standards, rules and protocols for the effective implementation of eHealth services, processes and solutions.

ON THE RECORD

“The Department of Health welcomes the new version of this Act because the future of health is being designed with eHealth, the use of information communications technology in health,” DOH Assistant Secretary Enrique Tayag said.

He also suggested that the measure should more clearly provide that private entities are free to use ICT in their delivery of health services.