Opinion: Bridging the gap between eHealth vision and current realities

The rise of health-related technology solutions is correctly perceived by healthcare professionals as a revolution that will ultimately drive improvement in patient care and increase practice efficiency.

This efficiency improvement allows providers to take on more patients and increase profits. It seems like a win-win situation for patients and providers but unfortunately there are barriers to the adoption of telehealth, telemedicine and mHealth that will take some time to overcome.

What are the adoption barriers in Australia? Why does eHealth offer great potential for Australians? How can we roll out eHealth solutions that benefit healthcare providers and their patients?

Go digital

Perhaps the most visible technology “challenge” in healthcare was the attempted introduction of personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR), now rebranded as My Health Record, in 2012. Despite costing over $1 billion, sign up rates by Australians were low, with many healthcare providers unsure how to implement the system in their practices.

In 2016, policymakers have decided to trial an opt-out system where Australians in various regions will have an account on the system created automatically, unless they proactively cancel it. This may increase perceived adoption rates but actual usage is another matter entirely as clinicians have yet to see value in it. Targeted training and national promotional campaigns are expected to reverse this trend.

With the correct security policies in place, changing from paper-based data to a digital format is not only advised, it is essential, especially in a technological age where collaboration is possible between healthcare professionals, their colleagues, specialists and patients.

When patient care is the focus, relying on couriers or fax machines to share documents is far less effective than many other solutions available today, such as video conferencing, remote diagnostics and health monitoring devices, for example.

Early adoption

Hanging on for dear life to obsolete paper-based methods is a mistake when you consider that even government legislation is driving a conversion to digital. It is the early adopters that will succeed, surpassing the efforts of their competitors in keeping pace as legislative requirements evolve.

Early adopters are open to change, can easily adapt their processes to meet changing needs and, yes, will also be more efficient. Whether it is the use of practice management software to simplify administration and store medical records or the sharing of data for consultation with specialists in another region, those who rely on paper-based processes are at a disadvantage.

Early adopters and the forward-thinking entrepreneurs that provide working solutions to the healthcare industry all encourage Australians to embrace new technology that will provide tangible benefits to all, not only by improving efficiency and level of care but also streamlining processes and increasing practice profits.

Technology

Anticipating future trends, an increasing number of eHealth firms that bridge the gap between ideas and products is turning vision to reality, providing a wide range of solutions that solve tangible issues in a country where patients are often located a long distance from healthcare providers.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Data availability – The use of cloud-based solutions allows any browser-based device to access on-premise data from anywhere. The use of permission-based access ensures all data is safe and can only be viewed by your healthcare professional
  • Integration of practice management data with medical record storage (including X-rays and images) and compliance with industry and legislative requirements
  • Remote home-based health monitoring for patients with ongoing conditions
  • Video communication with colleagues, patients and specialists for quick diagnostics
  • Patients can monitor themselves using mobile apps or specific hardware that uploads data to your healthcare provider in real-time
  • Secure storage and backup of all data that far exceeds paper-based file storage that is easily compromised or destroyed
  • The use of mobile clinics – a fully equipped mobile clinic can perform as well as its on-premise counterpart if the correct technology is implemented

The use of these solutions can result in reduced clinic visits without affecting care levels, allowing clinicians to prioritise clinic time for those who need it. It is only a matter of time before all clinics adopt technology to eliminate the problems associated with the long distances between clinics and their patients.

Some will go on the road with mobile clinics and perform their tasks in exactly the same way as from the main clinic. Others may prefer long-distance video consults. It really doesn’t matter what process is used as long as patient care levels are maintained, data is secure and all processes comply with industry best practices.

Rob Khamas is an eHealth solutions strategist with REND Tech Associates.

Comments   

# Eric Browne 2016-07-22 18:19
I have to take issue with some of Rob’s Technology dot points.
1. Cloud-based solutions are usually considered to denote off-premise data, where premise is that of the healthcare provider. The decision to opt for outside-of-orga nisation "Cloud-based solutions" is not about data access, but about IT infrastructure and data management costs.
2. It is rare to encounter existing software that does not require permission-base d access, even in healthcare. Such access certainly does not ensure "all data is safe and can only be viewed by your healthcare professional”. The My Health Record is a classic example, where the default access controls allow access to one’s record by any of some 700,000 healthcare providers across Australia. Once a provider has access to the system, she is authorised to access the record of any individual who has not set restrictions. It would be very interesting to know what percentage of My Health Record owners have set access restrictions.

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