Ireland ranks worst for digital health policies in developed world, says report

OECD report compares key indicators for people’s health and their health systems across the 38 member countries

Paul Cullen

Tue Nov 7 2023 – 10:41

Irish Times

Ireland ranks worst in the developed world for digital health policies even though Irish people have the third-highest level of digital skills, according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report.

Recognising that its members are struggling to maximise value from digital health because technologies and the data environment are often outdated and fragmented, the OECD explored countries’ readiness for the digital tools that are transforming health, including artificial intelligence.

Ireland ranked worst of 22 countries for ability to link different data in health, scoring less than half of the best performer, Denmark, according to the Health at a Glance 2023 report published on Tuesday.

By a long way, it also ranked last for the governance of data sets, including controls for privacy and security. Ireland’s score on this index was one-seventh of Denmark’s.

This is in spite of the fact that the digital skills of Irish adults are well above the OECD average, surpassed only by Netherlands and Finland. Ireland also scored near the bottom of a digital citizen engagement index measuring digital services provided by governments to their citizens.

Otherwise, Ireland fares well in this year’s edition of the report, which compares key indicators for people’s health and their health systems across the 38 members of the OECD.

Life expectancy in Ireland is 82.4 years, 2.1 years above the OECD average. The death rate is well below the international average, and people are far less likely to rate their health as bad or very bad.

Deaths continued to fall last year (all-cause mortality was down 2.1 per cent) when adjusted for population growth whereas in most OECD countries they had increased compared to 2015-19, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid-19 deaths in Ireland were below average for 2020-22 but cancer deaths in 2021 were seventh highest in the OECD.

Rates of obesity are lower than the average deaths from air pollution, at 11 per 100,000 population, are well below the OECD average of 28.9.

Smoking rates here are on a par with other countries, but alcohol and drug consumption in higher.

There are four doctors per 1,000 population, compared to an OECD average of 3.7, and 12.7 nurses (average 9.2). Ireland has 2.9 hospital beds per 1,000 population, less than the average of 4.3. At 90 per cent, Ireland has the highest rate of bed occupancy in the OECD.

We have one of the highest rates of avoidable admissions for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high death rates from opioid misuse, high levels of antibiotic prescribing and low levels of generic medicine use, according to the report.