Big guns making strides in health IT

The big news this week came out of the ginormous HIMSS exhibition in Orlando, Florida, which Pulse+IT's resident jetsetter attended for the first time. Mr Jetsetter insists the rumours are scurrilous but we hear he took the mammoth task of visiting the hundreds if not thousands of booths in his stride by touring them at his leisure on a Segway.

Mr Jetsetter reports back that the size of the exhibition and the number of attendees was astounding, with loads of antipodeans in attendance but the Segway doing it tough trying to avoid knocking anyone over. In the end, Mr Jetsetter is of the opinion that the exhibition side of HIMSS is more of a networking opportunity for health IT blokes than anywhere that serious business is being carried out.

As usual, a few big names turned out at HIMSS. We liked this interview with interview with Epic CEO Judy Faulkner, she of the seriously weird hangout in Wisconsin, who put forward the novel argument that lots of doctors actually do like their EMRs, and she has the facts to prove it. We also heard from Microsoft, which is getting very serious about how its Azure cloud environment and the FHIR standard can be used for doing some interesting things in healthcare.

One of our top stories this week was Microsoft's announcement at HIMSS that it was making its healthcare chatbot technology globally available in the Azure marketplace. It has also launched an API for FHIR in Azure, allowing customers to securely connect to and interact with any system that uses FHIR APIs. The US Health Department has also got in on the act, proposing new rules that would require some health insurers to implement a FHIR-based API to open up data access to third party apps and developers. It also proposes to give patients free access and control over their health information by 2020.

In other global news, Apple has worked with the US Veterans' Administration to allow veterans receiving care from the VA to access their medical records on their iPhones through the Apple Health Records app. There are also rumours that Slack is entering the healthcare market with a new US privacy law-compliant offering. WhatsApp is already surreptitiously used worldwide in the healthcare sector so we'll see if Slack can knock it off its perch.

One of the other big guns is Fujitsu, which has announced it is setting up a personal health information platform in Japan. Fujitsu is of course a major player in health IT globally for its infrastructure capabilities, but it just happens to be the largest EMR vendor in Japan as well. Its progress with what it is calling its “Healthcare Personal service Platform" will be interesting to follow.

While the big guys have high hopes, so did the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in the UK, which has been leading the Axe the Fax campaign in Blighty. Last year, it got the UK health minister on board with a demand that the NHS phase out faxes, but it seems its own target of January 1 was a bit too tight for Leeds, which has instead had to implement an eFax program, allowing it to send and receive faxes online. As many general practices and healthcare organisations in Australia and New Zealand know, while putting in a rule that you won't accept communications by fax is one thing, how to communicate with others who insist on fax is a different kettle of fish. Despite the Axe the Fax campaign's good intentions, it's still a hard slog for acceptance in the real world.

Our top story this week was on the latest RACGP technology survey, which found that 83 per cent of GPs were now only keeping electronic medical records, with no supplementary paper records. A few people queried the methodology and findings on our Pulse+IT Chat site but we reckon that long gone are the days when the majority of GPs resorted to a paper file.

We also briefly revisited the Hello Health saga that has dogged the higher ups at the RACGP – there is still a lot of disquiet among members of the college about it entering this sort of commercial agreement – but with only 25 people in total turning up to sample the delights of International Roast and soggy bikkies during a roadshow of six capital cities last year, we have doubts this thing will take off in any big way.

What we suspect might take off is the new BetterConsult platform that HealthShare has been developing. We think this might just solve a lot of the documentation burden that not just GPs but specialists and allied health professionals face, so we'll be watching this one closely.

For the nerds among us, next week will see the return of Senate estimates in Canberra, the last we will be seeing before the early budget and the federal election. The Health portfolio is up on Wednesday, with questioning about the health innovation and technology program to begin at 12.30. The My Health Record will be back under the spotlight and with luck we'll find out just how many people opted out overall. Fun for the policy wonks, utter boredom for most others. Pulse+IT, against our better judgement, will be there.

That brings us to our poll question for the week: do you think the opt-out rate will be over 10% or under?

Sign up to our weekend edition or Pulse+IT Chat to vote, or leave your thoughts below.

Last week, we asked: are patient-focused health apps of much clinical value? This split our readers down the middle: 49 per cent said yes, 51 per cent said no.

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