No getting away from Dr Google

The big news this week was the announcement by the Australian Digital Health Agency that Melbourne Pathology had started uploading pathology reports to the My Health Record. Melbourne Pathology is one of Sonic Healthcare's subsidiaries and this marks another step forward in making valuable clinical information available to patients.

Melbourne Pathology is following in the footsteps of another Sonic subsidiary in Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology, which connected to the system last year. And with one of the big three private pathology providers now routinely uploading reports and the majority of state pathology services also doing so, there might actually be a reason for people to take a look at their record. The other big providers, Healius and Australian Clinical Labs, are still to get on board.

We had a discussion about this on the Pulse+IT Chat site this week and most agreed that pathology reports were something that people will actually be interested in looking at. As we reported recently, it appears there are very few people who got a record after the great opt-out debacle have actually taken a look at their record. According to some in the media this means patients are “shunning” the system, although it could just be that millions do not have a myGov account and can't actually see it. There's also not much point looking at a record if there's nothing on it. Pulse+IT staff have had records since July 2012 and there's bugger all on ours.

What is more important is that ADHA figures show a distinct lack of interest in connecting to the system from some healthcare providers. Specialists are a known entity and ADHA has a program to encourage them to get on board, but there are very few allied health organisations or aged care providers registered. For aged care, it is about 247 organisations out of a baseline of 8500 or three per cent. (ADHA includes respite care with this baseline figure.)

We don't think that number has budged for at least four or five years and we are unaware of any providers or clinicians working in aged care who are actually looking at the record. Are they aware it even exists? If you know of anyone in aged care using the system regularly, let us know.

Meanwhile, for your weekend reading pleasure we thought you might find this article from the US publication Mobihealthnews interesting. It cites a study from giant US health insurer Aetna that surveyed 4000 office workers worldwide on their use of digital tools, particularly whether they Googled their symptoms. Of course they did, but while the headline figures show two in five office workers surveyed will search their symptoms online and self-medicate rather than visit a doctor, a similar portion of respondents said they would investigate their condition online and then see a doctor.

“There’s no getting away from Dr Google,” an Aetna spokesperson is quoted as saying, “so the onus is really on big tech giants such as Google to make sure they’re curating results that come from validated, reliable sources of information.” Google says it's making efforts to ensure trusted information about health topics comes up in its search results rather than dodgy stuff. Quacks like Dr Mercola are still there, though, and still enormously popular.

We also liked this article about the American Medical Association, which runs a survey much like the RACGP does here to gauge the uptake of digital tools by doctors. While there has been growth in the last three years, it is still coming off a small base. In countries with a strong public health system like the UK, that may be beginning to change. This report says the NHS aims to avoid up to a third of face-to-face outpatient visits over five years by using technologies such as telehealth, thus removing the need for up to 30 million outpatient appointments each year.

Back here in Australia, the AMA continues its increasingly desperate lobbying effort to get adequate funding for healthcare, including an MBS item for telehealth provision for aged care. We suspect these efforts will again come to naught this year.

That brings us to our poll question for this week: is the government ever likely to fund GP telehealth consults for patients in aged care?

Last week, we asked: should software vendors determine whether patients can exchange their clinical information? The vast majority said no: 88 per cent to 12 per cent in favour.

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

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