Pulse+IT Blog

Telehealth in the time of coronavirus

Despite the release last Friday by Australia's Department of Health of new item numbers for telehealth, lobbying continued this week by a number of doctors' groups as well as the Consumers Health Forum to allow any patient consultation to be handled by telehealth if clinically appropriate.

There was a slight relaxation of the rules this week to remove the term “usual GP” from the requirements, allowing a doctor from the same practice to see a patient remotely if their usual doctor isn't available. Midwives and obstetricians have also been given item numbers to use telehealth to monitor women remotely, but there is still a great deal of confusion out there.

Go hard, go early

As the Australian government ups the national response to the coronavirus outbreak by banning non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, the federal Department of Health on Friday released a package of welcome measures to try to help manage the coronavirus outbreak and the massive pressure it is destined to place on our healthcare system.

The department has made available 30-odd new MBS items that will allow GPs, specialists, nurse practitioners, psychologists and occupational therapists to treat patients remotely, either by video or telephone. The items cover not just those diagnosed with COVID-19 or requested to quarantine themselves, but vulnerable groups like the elderly and those with chronic illnesses.

Past time for government to move on telehealth

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to escalate amid personal protective equipment shortages and indecorous scuffles over rolls of dunny paper, we find ourselves asking a simple question. If now is not the time for the Australian government to finally drop its intransigence and introduce an MBS item number for GP telehealth, then when is?

Doctors' groups have been calling for the capability for years, particularly for housebound patients and those in residential aged care, but so far GPs have only been allowed to claim for remote consultations under very limited circumstances. This week, Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy finally admitted that the government had listened and was considering the option, telling a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday that it was also considering the possibility of allowing video consults with elderly patients and those with chronic diseases who would prefer not to venture out at the moment.

Rivers of Babylon gold

This week kicked off with the official go-live of the Australasian Institute of Digital Health and ended with a bit of controversy over SA Health's policy on sharing diagnostic reports and discharge summaries with the My Health Record for people under the age of 18. We congratulate our old HISA and ACHI friends on the successful rebranding to the new AIDH in what looks like a very smooth transition.

Another big story this week was the launch of a new index on the Australian stock exchange that covers the highest performing technology stocks, including six from the healthcare sector. The idea of the index is to draw attention to emerging companies and to widen interest in technology stocks beyond just information technology.

Ransomware goes big game hunting

Cybersecurity was back in the news this week with the release of a couple of reports detailing the extent and cost of malicious cyber activity over the last year for healthcare and other industries. Security software firm Malwarebytes released its 2020 State of Malware Report this week, reporting that the healthcare sector was the fifth most popular industry for attack in 2019.

The report pointed to an increase in attacks on businesses over consumers, and to increased sophistication in attacks, with large organisations becoming bigger targets in an exercise known as big game hunting. The attacks are also increasingly likely to be launched on several fronts, with Trojans used to get into systems to deliver ransomware as the payload.

When no news is good news

This week, we checked in with South Australia to see how it was faring with the roll out of the state's electronic medical record in its largest hospital, the architectural marvel that is the new Royal Adelaide. We hadn't heard much from SA since the independent review into the much maligned EPAS system recommended early last year that the roll-out be paused while the system was optimised, so we thought we'd check on progress.

What we found was newly appointed chief medical information officer Santosh Verghese, who gave us an update on how he was overseeing the change in the roll-out schedule following the recommendation that EPAS be split into an EMR separate from the PAS. He also told us about the change in focus he was taking, moving from IT projects led by SA Health to projects led by clinicians.

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.

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