Telstra outlines plans for investment in eHealth, PHRs

Telstra will target home health and aged care as part of its push into the healthcare sector, but it is also looking at telehealth applications and personal health records in its healthcare offering.

Speaking at a national investor day in Sydney recently, Telstra's head of health Shane Solomon said dysfunction in the home health and aged care market leads to preventable hospitalisations and premature entry to residential aged care, and these markets are most amenable to eHealth.

Telstra set up its new health division earlier this year and appointed Mr Solomon to run it in April. He is also the chair of the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority, and was previously national health lead at KPMG.

Mr Solomon also spent almost five years as chief executive of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, six years as undersecretary of health at the Victorian Department of Human Services and four years as group chief executive at Mercy Health and Aged Care.

Mr Solomon told the investor day that he saw the potential of eHealth first-hand in Hong Kong, which had a fully integrated patient record system for its seven million patients.

He said Telstra's move into healthcare had three main drivers: health is a huge part of Australia's economy and will continue to grow; the health system has major problems that are amenable to eHealth solutions; and “the eHealth market consists of many valuable but disconnected technologies which individually cannot address major system challenges”.

“Health now needs the same game-changing technology solutions that have transformed the banking industry,” he said.

He said that in choosing its strategy, Telstra has chosen to focus on seven market segments in healthcare, including home health and aged care.

“Building on Telstra’s strengths in connectivity and secure data storage, Telstra’s eHealth strategy is to assemble specialised eHealth capabilities."

These include provider applications, telehealth, care coordination, consumer health portals, enabling technologies, and data analytics.

“Our strategy is to build these capabilities through a combination of investments and partnerships with successful eHealth companies,” he said. “The strategy is to then leverage Telstra’s strengths and take these to a new level, by connecting different eHealth capabilities in an innovative and new way to provide into the mainstream health system.

“The strategy is to connect these islands of eHealth technologies and create an eHealth service offering that can systematically address the major challenges confronting the health system.”

Mr Solomon outlined several areas Telstra has identified as challenges, including creating a safer and more efficient pharmacy system. Telstra recently took a substantial stake in pharmacy software provider Fred IT as part of its investment strategy.

Telstra Health is also looking at improving the integration of health information, which is where its investments in DCA Health and IP Health come in. In addition to a number of clinical software packages, DCA Health also markets the Argus secure messaging service.

IP Health markets a hospital platform called Verdi that integrates patient information across multiple hospital applications, and allows the patient record to be viewed via smart phones and tablets.

Mr Solomon also hinted that the company will be looking at home healthcare applications to provide real-time diagnostic information that can connect to GPs and nurse care coordinators, and at telehealth. He said video conferencing's “time has come” and “no longer is expensive, fixed equipment always the solution”.

“The mobility, stability, speed and security of next generation technology opens the possibility for a person to have a consultation anytime and anywhere,” he said. “Telstra intends combining its traditional strength in telecommunications with assembling these specialised eHealth technologies.”

One very interesting area he discussed was consumer self-service. He revealed that Telstra was working with US company Get Real Health to integrate its personal health record platform, Instant PHR, into the Telstra environment.

The InstantPHR platform includes a patient portal, healthcare provider dashboard, and an administrative portal along with nearly 200 widgets. These include data visualisation tools, care plans, alerts, reminders, journaling tools, surveys and encrypted messaging. Get Real Health offers open APIs to develop custom extensions, and it also has a proprietary data abstraction engine allowing InstantPHR to integrate with a number of third-party systems.

InstantPHR features optional support for both Microsoft's HealthVault and Qualcomm Life's 2net wireless medical device data solution.

Telstra's investment in appointment booking service HealthEngine is part of this strategy, he said.

“At almost every point of contact with the health system there is opportunity for technology to transform an individual’s experience, from receiving tailored personalised health information to ordering repeat prescriptions and pathology re-testing online,” he said.

“Take appointments: most are scheduled by phone, at a time that’s convenient to the system, not you. To start with we can enable consumers to book appointments with doctors, dentists and specialists online. We’ve set the wheels in motion with HealthEngine, the Australian market leader in online health appointment bookings.

“In the future, telehealth consultations (phone and video) will supplement face-to-face consultations. A key to this is a consumer health portal which contains key patient information and allows for the consumer to transact differently with their health service provider. This is not unlike the revolution in internet banking.”

Telstra also plans to bring Canadian company Telus Health's iScheduler product to Australia, which has wait list, triage and referral and enterprise scheduling capabilities. Telus Health has been the exclusive Canadian partner for InstantPHR since January 2011 and recently made a significant investment in the company.

Mr Solomon said Telstra was “uniquely placed to bring health into the digital age, by investing and partnering across the eHealth market to leverage and connect technologies to address the major challenges confronting the health system consistent with our strategic focus.”

“Telstra’s eHealth strategy builds on our skills in providing better connectivity, implementing new emerging technologies and delivering cloud-based services,” he said.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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