Embracing eHealth in Latvia to move towards universal health coverage

The Latvian eHealth Journey (2017)

Dr Renāte Snipe works as Chief Physician at the Children’s Clinical University Hospital in Latvia’s capital, Riga. She was an avid supporter and early adopter of electronic health (eHealth) even before the Latvian Ministry of Health implemented its new national eHealth portal. On 1 January 2018, use of the eHealth portal by health-care professionals in Latvia became mandatory for the flagship ePrescription and eSickLeave services.

Like all new processes, the implementation has involved some technical problems. This has meant that, in some cases, it has been challenging for health professionals to accept the new portal. Dr Snipe, however, is firm in her opinion that the adoption of eHealth in Latvia is a positive and necessary development.

“As health-care professionals, the main benefit and our greatest expectation from using eHealth is the ability to track the examinations a patient has previously undergone, including laboratory tests and radiology examinations, and that means eliminating duplication of valuable services and effort,” says Dr Snipe.

“Even if patients don’t fully understand their condition or don’t remember all history of their treatment, we will have a completely holistic outlook of a patient. I think this is very important, both in terms of practicality and for patient safety.”

The eHealth portal was developed with the aim of extending access to health services for all Latvians by creating much-needed efficiencies in the health system and modernizing the delivery of care. To use it, health-care professionals in Latvia have had to become accustomed to new, electronic ways of working, which has proven difficult for some.

However, Dr Snipe is quick to point out the positive impact it has had on her work practices and those of her colleagues: “The whole process has become quicker. Errors in dosages or mistyping of drug titles are now much less likely to occur. Similarly, with sick-leave certificates, it is very convenient both for patients and for doctors, because now a doctor can prepare sick-leave certificates from any computer in the hospital. There is no need to look for paper forms anymore!”

When technical problems do arise, she and her colleagues work quickly and constructively with the technical support team to find a solution.

Countries of the WHO European Region have recognized that eHealth has an important role to play in their efforts to achieve universal health coverage. It can extend the scope, transparency, quality and accessibility of health services and health information; widen the population base capable of accessing available health services (including marginalized and underserved populations); facilitate training of the health workforce; and improve efficiency in the operation of health systems and the provision of care.

In Dr Snipe’s experience, eHealth also has a direct and positive impact on the way in which citizens interact with the health system. “Patients are very satisfied with electronic prescriptions,” she says. “They really like ePrescriptions because they can’t lose them and they don’t have to worry about pharmacists having difficulty in reading a doctor’s handwriting.”

Despite having to overcome some initial implementation difficulties, the outlook for eHealth in helping Latvia achieve universal health coverage is an optimistic one, in Dr Snipe’s view. “I think that the rest of Europe has proven that eHealth provides benefits to the entire population, and we in Latvia have to continue to look forwards. In principle, everybody understands that they have to learn eHealth. This is the future and we are ready to embrace it.”