Eight years after determining changes in delivery of health care made implementation of IT its top priority, the Hunter Urban Division of General Practice (HUDGP) has begun rolling out broadband to up to 170 local medical practices.
The representative body of GPs signed a deal worth up to $350,000 with Asia's largest independent internet communications service provider, Pacific Internet Limited last week to give GPs access to 1500Mb business grade broadband DSL connections, bundled with Cisco 800 series routers for additional security.
HUDGP's Executive Director Dr Arn Sprogis says under the Memorandum-of-Understanding Pacific Internet will be the sole provider of broadband services for HUDGP general practitioners. HUDGP's head office has been a long standing customer of Pacific Internet and 10 of its practices already use Pacific Internet broadband connections. HUDGP leveraged this relationship and commenced discussions for a tailored solution two months ago.
"Pacific Internet was chosen because of its focus on the needs of general practice and its commitment to the Hunter," said Dr Sprogis.
"The HUDGP looks forward to this exciting step into the future of high speed information management and the benefits it will bring to Hunter patients," he says.
The HUDGP is a government funded organisation that provides support services to 160 medical practices and 400 general practitioners (GPs) located in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter area of NSW.
Its board decided in 1996 in response to perceived changes in future delivery of health care to make the implementation of IT the top Divisional priority, under an IT strategy formulated by the Information Technology Subcommittee.
It believes that in a health care system which is rapidly evolving towards managed care, the adoption of IT by GP's will enable them to maintain their pivotal role as the centre point for the delivery of effective health care.
IT subcommittee chair Dr Richard Terry says HUDGP wanted to kick-start their GPs' interest in broadband with a mass broadband roll out project to demonstrate the efficiency gains that come with high speed, always-on internet connectivity. Maintaining high levels of online security was a major concern, as was positioning GPs to respond to new privacy legislation introduced by NSW State Health in March 2004.
"The need for broadband has been spurred by a number of challenges faced by HUDGP's GPs, with many practices incurring the cost of three or four dial-up services being used as dedicated connections to Medicare, pathology labs and the internet, and some failing to do security updates because they took too long over slow dial-up connections," he says. Without broadband online medical industry services and effective online research were also out of reach.
"HUDGP's desire to convert its GPs to broadband is consistent with NSW Health's vision of rapidly moving the health industry online to improve the quality and delivery of health care. As part of this vision, HUDGP was fortunate to secure $100,000 to participate in the NSW Government's pilot Electronic Health Record Network (EHR*Net) initiative," he says.
HUDGP expect the benefits of broadband to GPs to be substantial. For example HUDGP's after hours unit will efficiently email patient summaries to GPs, instead of faxing 2500 records back each month. Individual GPs' telecommunications bills are being reduced as practices can get rid of one or two phone lines and save on approximately 30 dial-up telephone calls per week. Doctors will effectively research online and in some cases download information that may not be available in hard copy for several months. Pathology results will be sent back online and Medicare's online site can run in the background, rather than on a dedicated PC. HUDGP will also be able to get their GPs to do security updates regularly and quickly online. And longer term, with EHR*Net and broadband, GPs will quickly and easily call up patient health summaries online.