Pulse+IT Blog

Flood disaster should be where My Health Record shines

The devastation inflicted on northern NSW and Queensland during the floods over the last fortnight has been heartbreaking to watch. Having spent some time in Kyogle and the northern rivers of NSW as well as southern Queensland, Pulse+IT is finding it hard to imagine the horror that the people and animals of the region have gone through.

While tertiary health services seem to have survived quite well, the same can’t be said for the fate of many primary healthcare providers, who are after all the lifeblood of regional communities. General practices, pharmacies, community and Aboriginal health centres and allied health have had their premises and their businesses swamped and destroyed. The pictures of elderly people from residential aged care facilities still dressed in their pyjamas being rescued in dinghies and carried to safety by locals and Pacific Island seasonal workers is reassuring. The images of the total destruction of the town of Lismore is not.

Allscripts joins sales of the century

The big news in health IT this week was the proposed sale of EMR vendor Allscripts’ hospital assets to Harris Computer, a subsidiary of Canadian software company Constellation Software. Harris has been buying up a few interesting companies recently, including Sydney-based obstetric and maternity software developer Meridian Health Informatics.

Meridian’s software is used by NSW Health, Queensland Health and Tasmania’s Department of Health, and Harris also added in the UK’s K2 Medical Systems to the mix last year, with a view perhaps to hoovering up the hospital-based maternity market. But Allscripts is a much bigger kettle of fish, with EMRs implemented around the world and a healthy enough listing on the NASDAQ index.

Virtual is good, but we still hold a candle for face to face

Pulse+IT was out in force this week at the Digital Health Institute Summit in Melbourne, which for some of us was the first opportunity to see interstate human beings in person for at least the last two years. Unsurprisingly there was a pretty big turn-out, with double the numbers expected turning up amid familiar sights like long lines at the espresso coffee stands and non-existent lines for ye olde brewde coffee stande, understandable considering it offers warmed up sump oil and dishwashing water and not much else.

Despite a shortened agenda, the Australasian Institute of Digital Health’s program team managed to shoehorn in a great deal of pretty great content into the two days. Very little was dull (barring a speech by a regulatory agency representative, but that was to be expected), and we all learned a lot. It was all filmed as well so AIDH members can see everything online. There’s also a virtual showcase happening next week that will be streamed live.

Changing of the guard at Telstra Health as digital health summit gets going

All the talk this week has been about the changing of the guard at Australia’s largest health IT company, with news that NSW Health secretary Elizabeth Koff will take over from her predecessor, Mary Foley, as the next MD at Telstra Health. Professor Foley was very warmly regarded by both her peers and her staff and in addition to setting the company on the path to profitability and buying up some pretty valuable assets, she has weathered a number of political storms with aplomb.

Telstra Health recently won a large contract outside of the healthcare industry – a $200 million, five-year deal to run Australia’s 1800RESPECT national assault, domestic and family violence hotline – signalling that it is now able to leverage some of the infrastructure it put into place for huge projects like the National Cancer Screening Register. It will be interesting in the next year or so to see how it handles the MedicalDirector transition (we are still convinced it paid too much) and its plans for international expansion under its new leadership.

Paper route dropped in favour of eReferrals

There was welcome news in the primary care sector this week with a new trial being launched in Victoria to use secure messaging technology to inform GPs if patients at medium risk of hospitalisation for COVID-19 have tested positive. The trial is using existing secure messaging technology and vendor directories for patients receiving in-home monitoring from programs like hospital in the home or HARP, and also taps into the Victorian COVID Positive pathways program.

Hopefully, the trial will go some way to solving problems for GPs in actually knowing which of their patients are positive and may need extra support. It doesn’t really solve a problem that former AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal has raised about immediately alerting GPs to ensure at-risk patients receive treatment straight away, but it’s a start at least.

RACGP view on telehealth is self-serving at best

Telehealth and its various policy and political ramifications was back in the news this week, with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) again changing its policy position on MBS funding of primary care telehealth, despite previous lobbying efforts to the contrary.

We’ve been critical of the changing position of the college on Medicare-funded telehealth and its fellow travellers at the AMA in the past, but this week we saw a triple backflip with pike as Omicron swept through the land. We have witnessed the medical fraternity going from dead set against telehealth in primary care to agreeing it is essential in a pandemic, but all of this is conditional it seems on doctors’ income not being affected.

Remotely monitoring the Omicron wave

Just as telehealth dominated the last two years of digital health, remote monitoring is likely to dominate the next: that’s pretty much our prediction for the coming year or two under these strange days indeed. Everyone is getting in on the remote monitoring act and it makes sense, clinically, practically and financially.

We reckon the alleged revolution in telehealth in Australia has turned out to be overhyped in a practical sense. While the acute care sector has struggled valiantly over the years to develop funded telehealth models of care using video conferencing, the modality has not been taken up in primary care in the slightest, predominantly due to funding concerns. But when funding does comes through – such as, say, temporary MBS items during a pandemic – phone calls are not really what telehealth is all about. GPs claiming for monitoring known patients by phone should be a given under a properly funded primary care system. Unfortunately, we are stuck with fee for service so even the most minor funding shift is heralded as revolutionary.

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