The real impact of Australia’s e-health system

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Australia has one of the world’s best healthcare systems, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. In the digital age, it’s hard to believe collecting and sharing health information such as medications, test results, scans, or hospital discharge reports is still by paper – an arrangement which undoubtedly has its limitations.

Australia’s move to an electronic health system was only going to be a matter of time. Coupled with the estimated national investment of $466.7million to launch the e-health system next year, healthcare professionals and patients are contemplating the real impact this will make.

According to the Federal Government, the digital management of health information has the potential to transform the way we do things now, streamlining processes, facilitating information sharing and ultimately, making it much easier and efficient to look after the health of the nation. The specific tools that will make this happen include:

  • Personally controlled electronic health records: enabling the communication of patient data between different healthcare professionals including GPs and specialists;
  • Telemedicine: physical and psychological treatments at a distance;
  • Consumer health informatics: use of electronic resources on medical topics by healthy individuals or patients;
  • Health knowledge management: an overview of latest medical journals, best practice guidelines or epidemiological tracking;
  • Virtual healthcare teams: consisting of healthcare professionals who collaborate and share patient information through digital equipment;
  • M-health: including the use of mobile devices in aggregating patient data, providing healthcare information to practitioners, researchers and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vitals, and direct provision of care (via mobile telemedicine);
  • Medical research using grids: powerful computing and data management capabilities to handle large amounts of information;
  • Healthcare information systems: appointment scheduling, patient data management, work schedule management and other administrative tasks surrounding health.

The digital system will increase communication between healthcare professionals and the public – but what difference will it make to their everyday lives?

Patients will be able to access their personal health records and support will be at their fingertips. Ultimately, treatment will be more streamlined resulting in clearer records and more immediate access to healthcare professionals.

For healthcare providers, a seamless roll-out will enable them to access patient information at the click of a button. An electronic system will translate to improved methods for disease surveillance and being able to get a second opinion – resulting in improved patient care.

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General Practitioner and former Australian Medical Association president, Dr John Gullotta says, “It’s inevitable that an implemented e-health system will alter the way patients and GPs interact. Key elements of personalised health information will be brought together and patients will be able to access their own health details and benefit from streamlined GP visits.”

Despite the anticipated benefits, there are some concerns about the implementation. The media has voiced doubts about the security of patient’s records. In addition to this, there is concern a digital system may isolate people who do not have access to a computer, particularly people living in remote areas, older generations and low socio-economic families. And like all sophisticated IT systems, there is also the risk of technical failures.

The opportunity for patients and healthcare professionals to have access to personal health information whenever needed, and the predicted streamlined treatment journey, paints a very positive picture. But until Australia’s e-health system starts operation and is assessed in practice, nobody is willing to fully sing its praises quite yet.

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What does Australian consumption of the internet say about us as a nation?

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Internet usage in Australia has been hitting the headlines. Last August, Facebook publically announced that Australia has 9.5 million subscribers and that we’re spending more time on the social networking site than any other country. The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed earlier this year that the number of internet subscribers in Australia has increased by a sizable 10% to 10.4 million in the past ten months. So what does this say about us as a nation?

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You could argue that it’s something to do with Australia being an island – we’re a long way from everyone else and we use channels like Facebook and Google+ to communicate with long lost friends and relatives overseas. But then wouldn’t the same ring true for the UK, New Zealand and Japan? Perhaps it’s down to us being the stereotypical “friendly, laid back, social” Aussies who like to communicate with our mates. No! What it’s really got to do with is that we are informed, online users and data suggests that we like to do our research on the web before spending our hard earned dollars.

As a nation, we’re spending on average 22 hours a week online and a fifth of that’s using social media channels. You see, we like to browse, make informed decisions and see what other people are saying about a product or brand before making a decision. And this explains why there has been a huge surge in the number of Aussies contributing and using online reviews, discussions, comments and ‘Likes’ before making a purchase.

And the same rings true for the medical profession. In August this year, Cegedim Strategic data released new stats about doctor’s digital habits. The research suggested that 30% of doctors own an iPad and 56% plan to buy one in the future. Out of those who own an iPad, 17% said they use it for both work and personal reasons.

We’re also seeing steps being taken by the government to electronically coordinate patient care across the healthcare sector. It’ll be interesting to monitor the success of the initiative to roll out the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system for Australians. From 2012-13, if we register, we’ll be able to see important health information in one consolidated view and share it with healthcare practitioners during our medical appointments. 

Nielsen published some very interesting data earlier in the year showing that we’re also leading the way in social media consumption. 73% of us read reviews, discussions and comments on brands, products and services at some stage and 26% do so on a regular basis. 46% have clicked the Facebook ‘Like’ button for a brand/organisation and 17% do so frequently.

Luckily we don’t have to stay glued to a computer to do our browsing. Nowadays, doctors can readily access mobile medical applications while in the hospital. Migraine patients can track their condition on the move, diabetes patients can log their glucose levels with a glucose buddy and smoking cessation apps motivate quitters while they are socialising by keeping a note of cost savings.

One thing’s for sure – Australian use of the internet is predicted to rise. In terms of what this says about us as a nation – it’s simple. We’re digitally savvy. We like to chat to our friends and family online, conduct web based research and shop around before we buy. Who knows what next year’s stats will suggest about our national digital habits. There’s only one way to find out – keep browsing.

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Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

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Hands up who’s been on Twitter for more than 12 months? Be honest!

If, like most people, you can’t put up your hand then don’t worry, because it was only in 2009 that Twitter really hit the mainstream. Created back in 2006, the site provided a unique microblogging service that enabled users to send messages (tweets) of up to 140 characters to their network of followers across the globe. However, by 2008 there were still only a few hundred thousand users.

It wasn’t until the beginning of last year when big-name celebrities began using the service to connect with their fan base, and Governments and big corporations used the site to extend the reach of their campaigns, that Twitter hit the headlines and experienced serious exponential growth.

The exact number of users is hard to quantify, but by September last year the number of live Twitter accounts is said to have passed an incredible 50 million. One in five internet users employ Twitter or another service to send updates about themselves or to see other people’s updates.

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

The early adopters of Twitter in the healthcare arena have been clinical groups, hospitals and healthcare organisations who are beginning to use Twitter to communicate timely information within the medical community, to patients and the public. Real-time tweets provide a fast and easy way to reach multiple people in a short space of time. This has advantages for sharing time-critical information such as drug safety warnings, tracking disease outbreaks and disseminating healthcare information.

Twitter applications are now available to help patients find out about clinical trials or to link brief news alerts from organisations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reliable websites that provide more detailed information. International congresses are now using tweet streams to update followers on the latest news and data announcements.

Twitter has become an integral part of communication in today’s society. In fact, for the first time, the updated Medicines Australia Code of Conduct includes reference to social media (section 12.9 for consumers, 2.4.2 for healthcare professionals) – removing the current ambiguity and providing definitive acceptance of this medium as a valid communication channel within the healthcare arena.

With major health issues like swine flu topping the charts as the second most tweeted about topic in 2009, it’s clear that health will continue to be discussed via social media. It’s time the Pharma industry began dipping its toe into the water and using this channel to openly interact with its target audiences.

If Pharma is not part of the conversation to begin with, how can we expect our voice to be heard?

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