Leading IT and health-care firms are gearing up to bid for a government contract to provide an electronic record system for patients using public hospitals and clinics. Insiders say the deal is worth upwards of R500m.

Most patient records are paper-based and hospitals that do use electronic records have implemented systems that are not integrated with other facilities, making it difficult to share information on patients.

The result is unnecessary duplication and increased risk of misdiagnosis and other errors. It also makes it difficult for government to monitor health trends and allocate resources accordingly.

Government issued a call for proposals for an electronic health record system (EHRS) earlier this month. The briefing meeting was attended by SA's big IT players, including local firms Dimension Data and Business Connexion, as well as foreign owned companies Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Sun Microsoft.

According to documents on the State Information Technology Agency's website, the EHRS will capture a massive amount of patient data, including ID number, blood group, medical diagnoses, medications prescribed and dispensed, and procedures performed. The data would most likely be stored at facility level, rather than in a national database.

Consultancy firm Accenture, which is among the firms wanting the contract, said patients in the public and private sector saw value in having electronic records.

A recent Accenture survey among urban adults found that half of those who belonged to medical schemes were prepared to pay extra for electronic health records, said one of the firm's senior managers, Roze Phillips. A fifth of the medical scheme members said they would be prepared to pay up to R100 a month for the privilege. Most respondents said they would trust electronic records more than handwritten ones.

Hospital company Delta 9, which has installed IT systems in three provinces, said an electronic health record system would have to be phased in, rather than be introduced in one fell swoop.

The company's MD, Chris Stevenson, said the EHRS would need to be integrated with systems used by the private sector. "We hope government will buy 'proudly South African', as the costs of foreign solutions are huge," he said.

Business Day