Health insurer counting its losses as government moves to scrap costly and inefficient electronic health records project

The Czech government has announced its decision to dump a costly electronic health records project launched ten years ago. The project which was to facilitate communication between doctors regarding treatment of individual patients failed to get off the ground properly and was frequently criticized for lack of transparency.

Ten years on, the electronic health records project which was to have ushered in a new era in Czech health care is slowly grinding to a halt. The costly 1.8 billion crown project subsidized by the state-controlled insurer VZP – the country’s largest health insurance company – has proved inefficient and in many ways disadvantageous. Critics say it contains random records since doctors were not properly motivated to use it and moreover was only available to VZP clients. The insurer moreover outsourced the project to a joint stock company established by two then Civic Democrat deputies – now MEPs – who later sold their shares to a little-known Swiss company, fuelling speculation regarding a conflict of interests and abuse of funds. After years of controversy regarding IZIP’s viability the centre-right government last week announced its decision “not to protract the agony further” saying the project would be definitively scrapped by the end of the year. With a 51-percent stake in the IZIP company the board of the state-controlled insurer has the leverage to push that painful decision through.

Leoš Heger
Health Minister Leos Heger says that while electronic health records were still in the pipeline they would not be based on the ill-fated IZIP project.

“IZIP doubtless had a number of advantages, but as far as the big picture is concerned it failed to meet the set goals and it certainly failed to show adequate results for the money spent.”

The money spent is a staggering 1.8 billion crowns and the opposition says it wants to know who is to blame for the money squandered. Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka has demanded the setting up of a special parliamentary commission to deal with the matter. Minister Heger is likewise of the opinion that IZIP should be investigated, but he says he is in favour of a standard investigation by the police. He has not ruled out filing a criminal complaint against an unknown culprit should there be sufficient evidence of mismanagement of funds.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
In the meantime the minister is busy outlining conditions for a tender on a new electronic health records project that would help take the country’s health care into the 21st century. Rather than leaving the task in the hands of one insurer he wants to link up a complex system of already existing data bases run by hospitals, GPs and specialists and make it compulsory –through an amendment to the law – for doctors to use the new system once it is up and running. Since –according to the minister’s words -nothing can be salvaged from the ill-fated IZIP the new project will once again cost taxpayers billions of crowns.