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Digitising healthcare: The state of e-health in Australia

Digitising healthcare: The state of e-health in Australia

Several health organisations give examples of how digitisation is transforming healthcare

Telehealth care

One organisation leading the telehealth space is Hunter New England Health (HNEH), which has rolled out 800 Avaya Scopia user licences for Clinical Virtual Meeting Rooms, 65-plus videoconferencing end points and room integrations, and 45 clinical care cameras.

HNEH uses videoconferencing mostly for check-up consultations in remote and regional areas of the Hunter, New England and Lower Mid North Coast regions. These patients have to face the tyranny of long distances, which means they are unlikely to want to get check-ups, says HNEH clinical business analyst, Owen Katalinic.

“A lot of people travel up to 10 hours each way to come to our tertiary hospitals – John Hunter Hospital, John Hunter Children’s Hospital and Calvary Mater – all located in Newcastle. Often these consultations last five to 10 minutes,” he says.

“Say a patient is going to have a gall bladder removed, and he/she lives in Tamworth. The patient needs to travel to Newcastle to be told by a surgeon that it’s going ahead and then they go home. They go to Newcastle again for pre-operation tests and advice, and return home. They go to Newcastle for the operation, they go home. They return again for a post-surgical appointment, they go back home,” adds Ashley Young, who works with Katalinic as a clinical business analyst.

“At least two of those appointments could be done through telehealth, which would save 1200 kilometres in travel for the patient and the associated time and expense.”

Katalinic and Young are using a variety of business intelligence tools to analyse data from HNEH’s patient administration system and calculate travel savings patients have made using videoconferencing. They found patients save an average of 406km of travel per telehealth consultation.

“We are hoping to use a lot of this data as KPIs for encouraging [clinicians] to change some of their practices and do things differently,” says Young. “But it’s to supplement and enhance the service we provide, rather than about providing a new service.”

HNEH also loans out 200 iPads to families in low socio-economic groups for up to three months. Besides being able to make video calls, users can participate in games and exercises designed for therapy such as improving memory.

CIO for home care provider Silver Chain Group, Lee Davis, is using tablets and a combination of Polycom and Telstra IP Telephony (TIPT) videoconferencing to reach a huge geography of 27 bases spread over country Western Australia. The organisation is approaching 4000 Samsung devices in its fleet, the majority of which are supplied to staff.

“Our primary objective is, and always will be, about improving client outcomes,” Davis says. “Of course, a side benefit we can’t ignore is we can maximise productivity, reduce travel costs and reduce time wasted travelling.

“The trend in e-health at the moment is moving the provider from being central to everything, to putting the consumer and the client at the centre. Empowering the client is driving a lot of change.”

About 100 patients in South Australia are using Silver Chain’s tablets and videoconferencing for when they need a nurse to witness them taking medications. The patient simply holds their medication up to the high-definition camera and the nurse confirms if it’s the right type and amount before the patient takes it.

Silver Chain’s ComCare – its internal e-medical record developed by EOS Technologies, which is part of the Silver Chain Group – has been developed for Android devices, and uses SOTI for its mobile device management.

“We chose to develop on Android because it is an open platform, as opposed to others which are more of a closed, walled garden style of ecosystem. We can remote control those devices, which makes it great from a support point of view,” says Davis.

“Everything in the device is secure and encrypted. We only keep transient data on the devices, so each nurse only sees the information that they need to see. Everything uses SSL to transmit.

“With videoconferencing, we work with Telstra and its TIPT network to have a secure private network for videoconferencing as well.”

Electronic records

Sydney Children’s Hospital Network (SCHN), alongside several other local health districts, was part of a pilot for the NSW HealtheNet portal – a state funded project that links multiple hospital databases to give clinicians a single view of repositories. It also integrates with the national Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record.

CIO of SCHN, Bill Vargas, says HealtheNet has improved decision making between hospitals, improved accuracy of information, reduced time investigating or searching for information, and minimised duplication of documents and tests.

SCHN was also a pilot for the NSW Health Enterprise Image Repository, which allows medical images such as X-rays to be shared by health providers across the state.

“If a patient has an X-ray in Dubbo, and then they get flown to Sydney or to the SCHN, we have access to that X-ray when they arrive, and potentially the clinical summary as well if it has been done,” says Vargas. “In the past, if a patient was transferred, the images were not transferred with them, so they would have to be X-rayed again.”

In addition, SCHN has its own internal e-medical record and is building an e-medications management system and full electronic record for oncology (cancer) patients.

To make all these systems integrate, Vargas is using clinical document architecture (CDA), an HL7 standard that allows the communication of clinical documents in a mark-up language.

“The CDA standard has provided us with a fair amount of flexibility to communicate clinical information across the systems. Beyond the organisation, at state and national level, it’s the way we are moving forward. And from the initial [HealtheNet] pilot, it was deemed quite successful,” Vargas says.

All result entries, notes and views are recorded so SCHN can tell who has accessed a record, as well as when and how they interacted with it.

“We also have role-based access levels, so a nurse cannot do the same things with the record that a clinician can,” says Vargas. “When staff access our records externally, we use VPN over Internet with two-factor authentication using physical tokens.”

Silver Chain’s internal e-medical record, ComCare, is currently being integrated with the PCEHR. “We are moving with ComCare towards a complete electronic record across the group,” says Davis.

Like SCHN, Silver Chain also records users’ login times and activity, and assigns different user level access rights to different types of healthcare workers. E-records mean information is more secure than in paper form as there’s always a digital trace and it’s more securely stored than in a filing cabinet, Davis says.

Opt-out model planned for national electronic patient record

A review of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR), released in May, has recommended switching to an opt-out model. This will mean all citizens are automatically registered for the system but can choose not to participate. This is planned to come into effect on 1 July 2015.

The PCEHR was launched in 2012, and is the national infrastructure allowing citizens to have a single medical history record. It failed to meet the Government’s self-set target of 500,000 registered users by 1 July 2013.

“Individuals would not make the effort to opt-in, so opt-out will create a critical mass very quickly,” says SCHN’s Bill Vargas. “Very busy clinicians are assured that when they look in the PCEHR, the likelihood is they will find useful clinical data on their patients.”

Having an opt-out system is good, but more focus should be on encouraging people to share their information, says Silver Chain’s Lee Davis.

“You could have 24 million registered, but that doesn’t deliver value until we start getting more shared health, event and discharge summaries,” he claims. “If a GP opens my record and can see I have a record but there’s no history or information in there, then it doesn’t deliver the clinician any value.”

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Tags e-healthbusiness intelligenceHealthcarevideoconferencingehealthtelehealthPersonally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR)Digital HospitalComcareNSW Health PathologySilver ChainHealtheNetclosed loop medication systempoint-of-care devicesworkstations on wheelsSydney Children’s Hospital Networkpathology testse-medical recordsSt Stephen’s digital hospitalclinical document architectureHunter New England HealthUnitingCare Health

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