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 the Twitter explosion mean for journalists?

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Back in 2009 when the US Airways flight crashed in New York’s Hudson river, it took a mere four minutes before a member of the public broke the story to the world via Twitter. Jim Hanrahan, wrote: “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive [sic] in manhattan”.

Twitter

It wasn’t long before the story was spreading like wildfire in Twitterverse. Interestingly, it took news outlets longer and it was approximately 15 minutes later that they began reporting the incident.

Love it, or hate it, with the rise of social media channels like Twitter and Flickr, news stories can reach all corners of the world with an immediacy we’ve never seen before. We only need to look at more recent examples of the microblogging’s speedy ability to spread the word, including the death of Steve Jobs and Muammar Gaddafi. So what does this mean for qualified, modern-day journalists and how are they embracing Twitter?

We’re constantly reminded that we’re in the midst of a social media revolution. Twitter is a social networking phenomenon and Australians aren’t holding back! In fact, Australia accounts for 1.8% of Twitter’s traffic and the social networking site attracts 1.1 million unique Australian visitors per month.

So, what is Twitter? Twitter, in essence is a very simple tool. ‘Tweeters’ are limited to posting short, 140 character messages (the same length as a traditional SMS message) to their followers. So a Tweet can’t provide a lot of detailed information, but it can make a concise point, link to an image or webpage and most importantly publish content immediately.

Since it’s creation in 2006 however, Twitter has evolved. ‘Tweeters’ are now able to search the entire network in real-time for specific topics or breaking news, organise their streams with ‘hash tags’ – the # symbol, used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet, and even add photos or videos to their posts.

These developments of the social media channel have translated to journalist engagement. Twitter has become a way for the media to keep up to date and engage with their audiences, locate sources and to report on news in real-time. The sheer speed of Twitter’s ability to spread breaking news has completely changed the way that journalists report and audiences receive news.

Many key Australian health journalists are opting to not only ‘follow’ the news on Twitter but also publish and promote their own stories. Take ABC medical health reporter Sophie Scott. Sophie’s an active Tweeter and uses the channel to broadcast her stories to the world.

Sophie Scott

Twitter itself, is also catching on to the growing trend of journalists engaging the networking site. This is reinforced by Twitter publishing a set of guidelines called Twitter for Newsrooms, which is designed to help journalists use the platform effectively. A Twitter spokesperson explains:

“We want to make our tools easier to use so you can focus on your job: finding sources, verifying facts, publishing stories, promoting your work and yourself and doing all of it faster and faster all the time.”

Twitter for Newsrooms was launched earlier this year and demonstrates to journalists how to “report”, “engage” and “publish” to their followers.

There are a plethora of other helpful tools that are assisting journalists with their mission to conquer the news digitally – be it, Tweetgrid, Twitscoop.com, Twhirl, Tweetdeck or Twellow, and the list goes on.

During a talk in Melbourne on the ‘Twitterisation of Journalism,’ University of Canberra Journalism lecturer and social media researcher/consultant Julie Posetti stated, “It’s fascinating as a citizen, as an academic and as a journalist to watch Twitter progress. Despite all the risks and pitfalls that have well and truly been identified along the way, I think Twitter is an important breakthrough in terms of making journalism more social and accessible to a broader public.”

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Developing an engaging Facebook page for your business

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With more than 10 million users in Australia alone and 500 million global users, Facebook is one of the most influential websites in the world. Increasingly, patients are researching their condition and treatment approach online and Facebook is a very useful resource to share experiences with others and to gain further insights. Here are some simple ways that you can maximise engagement on your Facebook business page.

Focus on your audience and their needs

As with any marketing and communications messaging, it’s important to focus on the outcomes and your audience. Who are you talking to and engaging with on your Facebook page, and what would they value from you? If you have a range of insights that you deliver to clients as part of your services, consider seeding some of these into your Facebook page. Be clear about who you are talking to and be sure to offer them something of ‘value’ – whether that be expert advice, topical news or an offer.

Plan your posts

Publishing valuable content on your business Facebook page is crucial to maximise the audience’s engagement. Scheduling what you want to say and when you want to say it avoids repetition and ensures you integrate different aspects of your communications plan on the Facebook page. Planning content avoids any last minute panics and translates to higher quality posts and enables consistent messaging. The most effective way to do this is to create a content calendar and set aside time each week/month to plan what you are going to say.

Good content is crucial

It seems obvious, but if you publish good quality content, people will return to your Facebook page and will share links with their friends. Here are some top tips to encourage engagement:

1)      Include links to support your message

2)      Be personal – your page is the face of your organisation or your brand

3)      Be active and update your page frequently

4)      Engage with your audience. If someone asks a question ensure you answer it

5)      Have a social media framework in place in case anyone posts defamatory content

6)      When publishing health specific content, remember it must comply must with the ASMI, MA, TGA codes and other relevant industry regulations

7)      Monitor your page – if someone publishes spam, immediately delete it

8)      Think about what would add value to the audience, e.g. a tip of the day may demonstrate your expertise as well as be of use to the audience

9)      Upload varied content, this could include videos and podcasts

Frequency of posting

It is the quality of content, not the quantity that matters. Research shows that businesses who post weekly on their Facebook page get the same result as those who post daily. Always think about the time of day you post content and when your key audience is available.

So what does this mean for the pharma industry?

Pharmaceutical companies face the challenge to host a branded Facebook page which complies with industry regulations and also acts as a forum where patients can have a two way dialogue. The FDA, ASMI, TGA and MA is yet to determine official guidelines for pharmaceutical  brands operating in digital media, so understandably, pharmaceutical companies are cautious in their decision making about how to use Facebook pages as part of their marketing strategy.

 women's confidential

Women’s Confidential Australian Facebook page

As a business, it is important to be within the digital space that your key audience is using. Many organisations are hosting successful unbranded Facebook pages – take a look at the Australian Women’s confidential page from makers of Canesten®. This site is positioned as the “modern girls survival guide offering advice fashion, beauty and health tips.”

The Can you feel my pain? page developed by Pfizer is an exemplary unbranded Facebook page raising awareness about chronic pain and working in collaboration with leading patient and citizen organisations across Europe.

 Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Evidently, there are strategies to host engaging Facebook pages that educate patients and do not contravene regulatory guidelines.

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Nursing Australians back to health

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This week marks a landmark moment in Australia’s healthcare system when a key item in the Government’s health reform plans is fully realised.  In a major change that will affect nurses – but also GPs, patients and the pharmaceutical industry – nurse practitioners and midwives will now have the power to access specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items and prescribe certain medicines subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The change in legislation recognises the highly-skilled and capable Australian nursing and midwifery workforce, providing a new framework to enhance and expand their role in providing quality healthcare.

Nurse prescribing is common practice overseas. The UK has seen a significant shift in the last two decades in nurse prescribing – which started in the 1990s when community based nurses were able to prescribe independently from a limited formulary. Since May 2006 independent nurse prescribers have been given the ability to “prescribe any licensed medicine for any medical condition within their competence.”

With this local shift in prescribing power now happening in Australia’s healthcare system, divisions in opinion and the murmur of a ‘turf war’ were always going to be inevitable. Great effort has been made to ensure the change in legislation preserved the requirement for nurse practitioners and midwives to work in collaboration with medical practitioners to access the MBS and PBS – essentially ensuring GPs are ‘kept in the loop’.  The AMA has gone to considerable lengths to help GPs prepare for the changes asking them to ‘embrace the changes’ or risk the possibility of jeopardising the mandated collaborative arrangements.

Importantly everyday Aussies are reportedly supportive of the Government’s move. Research just released by the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI) has shown Australians know the difference between being sick and needing a doctor and those “everyday health concerns” when a nurse practitioner would suffice.

Responses to the ongoing APHCRI survey has stated nurses are “good listeners” and could cater for “everyday health concerns, such as repeat prescriptions and minor illnesses, to free up GPs to manage more complex conditions.”  Shorter waiting times and better access to primary care has been identified as important advantages.

There is no doubt this represents a major milestone in Australia’s healthcare system. Ensuring this significant move enhances the delivery of best possible healthcare to Australians will be critical.  Time will tell whether or not we can indeed reach the levels of contribution nurse practitioners are making in the UK.

Big changes for Aussie nurses...

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The rise of the responsible blogger

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It’s hard to believe blogging began just over ten years ago, primarily as online diaries for a handful of people. In its purest form the blog is a relatively easy way for you and I (the ‘citizen journalist’) to communicate to interested people about any topic we like in a format where having an opinion matters more than being objective. 

Recently, the blog format has migrated into the mass media space, with the format increasingly utilised by traditional media outlets to present news and current affairs online. The first known use of a blog on a news site was in August 1998, when Jonathan Dube of The Charlotte Observer in the United States published one chronicling Hurricane Bonnie. But it was the Iraq war that saw blogging rise in popularity amongst journalists, with many providing a ‘real life, real time’ image of the conflict via their online diaries.

The divide between traditional journalism and blogging is often seen as a chasm rather than a crack, particularly in terms of accuracy and quality. But discussions at last week’s Frocomm Digital Conference challenged the view that all blogs are created equal. 

While bloggers themselves were once seen as ‘media mavericks’, one of Australia’s key bloggers discussed the fact that many bloggers choose to adhere to the commandments of their journalistic counterparts. Duncan Riley, respected blogger and editor of The Inquisitr reiterated the ‘content is king’ mantra, stressing the importance of accuracy and objectiveness. Mr Riley claims his blog jumps through more ‘editorial hoops’ than some of the stories found on sites like news.com.au, which he argues could be seen as content filters rather than content creators.

Rise of the responsible blogger

However, he also admits that “quality blogs don’t get the traction, influential stuff does.” Monty Hamilton, Head of Online at Ubank agreed, labelling the merging of quality and influence “engagement value – what can we offer the blogger that will engage their audience and ultimately attract new followers?”

We are undoubtedly witnessing a closing of the great divide between the blog and traditional media coverage. In the United States alone, an overwhelming 89% of journalists admit to researching and/or sourcing a story from a blog. (Conversely, Duncan Riley would rather his blog was “picked up on Twitter than by the mainstream media” as the power of attracting more followers is greater).

Whatever your personal view, blogs will continue to grow in number and influence, offering healthcare communicators a unique avenue to reach a specific target audience who are interested and highly motivated by what they read – providing that ‘engagement value’ in a way no traditional mass media outlet can.

In the age of the ‘healthsumer’ and at a time when the traditional flow of information has been turned on its head, the question will not be whether to engage with the blogosphere or not, but rather who to appropriately interact with and how to do it.

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