The eHealth journey in Latvia

In a journey that started over a decade ago, the Ministry of Health of Latvia demonstrated its commitment to achieving universal health coverage by creating a national programme of electronic health (eHealth). This effort is in line with the 2013 World Health Assembly resolution on eHealth standardization and interoperability. As part of an ambitious, long-term national health reform agenda, the eHealth programme has been a key element of ensuring that Latvian people receive the right care in the right place and at the right time.

In the past, concerns such as data privacy and confidentiality were a barrier to converting Latvia’s fragmented, paper-based system into a modern, efficient and accessible eHealth system. Now, several comprehensive improvements, aided by technical support from the WHO Country Office in Latvia, have helped the eHealth system reach a high level of reliability and acceptance.

From January 2018, use of the electronic platform will become mandatory for all health-care providers for issuing a number of medical documents such as prescriptions and sick-leave certificates. Efforts by the Government are also underway to incorporate a range of additional eHealth services such as electronic referrals.

Collaboration with WHO key to successful eHealth adoption

Dr Anda Čakša, Minister of Health of Latvia, highlights the multiple advantages of the new system: “If we are speaking about a transparent, clear and traceable health-care system, which is convenient both for patient and doctor and in which information doesn’t disappear but where the same information is accessible to different specialists – then eHealth offers all of that.”

She says the technical assistance from WHO was vital to helping Latvia implement the system it has in place today. At the request of the Ministry of Health, WHO/Europe convened a national eHealth forum to support the country’s transition to the use of the eHealth services platform.

“WHO technical assistance was requested at a very critical time for the Ministry of Health,” says Dr Aiga Rūrāne, Head of the WHO Country Office in Latvia. “This engagement not only helped dispel some misconceptions about the implementation, but also directly led to a positive change in attitudes for adopting eHealth.”

The team of WHO and national experts concluded that the eHealth system in Latvia is ready for public use. It has every capability to ensure health-care service and payment transparency, to improve access to health-care services and to encourage patients’ participation in their health care.

A bright future for eHealth in Latvia

Health-care providers already using the eHealth system note some of its key benefits: it allows them to track a patient’s medical history, including past examinations and tests, and helps avoid duplication. “It is very important, both in terms of practicality and patient safety,” says Dr Renāte Smite, Chief Doctor at the Children’s Clinical University Hospital in Riga.

All hospitals, nearly all pharmacies and half of general practitioners in Latvia have now established contracts to implement the eHealth system. It appears that the country will be ready for the compulsory adoption of eHealth in 2018 and that the future of eHealth in Latvia – supported by the WHO Country Office – is very bright.