ITAC: Telstra's plans to ditch the pilot and roll out the jumbo

Telstra Health plans to bring to market an interoperable mechanism by which the data held in aged care, general practice and pharmacy software systems is more easily shared, and is also intent on developing affordable, sustainable solutions for integrated telehealth services for independent living.

Telstra Health's two community care leads – former Victorian minister for health Bronwyn Pike and former Australian Home Care Services CEO Michael Boyce – told the ITAC conference in Hobart yesterday that they had spent the last year speaking to as many people in the aged and community care sectors as possible, and had now developed a strategy to improve information sharing and bring new products to those markets.

Telstra Health, which outlined its plans for home and aged care last year, plans to leverage the technology developed by companies it has purchased or taken a stake in – such as pharmacy market leader Fred IT, community and primary care software vendor DCA Health (which has now rebranded as HealthConnex), acute care vendor Verdi and personal health record vendor Get Real Health – to develop infrastructure that links all of the healthcare sectors together for better information sharing.

Mr Boyce told the conference that one of the problems in the existing primary and community care sectors was that it was a low-return industry with many small IT innovators. The customer market isn't that large, he said, and there is an oversupply of vendors.

He said the sectors were also plagued by misaligned incentives and payment systems, which consumer-directed care (CDC) would hopefully help, but the main problem was fragmentation, which is where Telstra comes in.

“Somehow we need to be able to connect the dots and sometimes it needs a big player with a reasonable balance sheet to play a part in solving those problems,” Mr Boyce said.

One area Telstra Health plans to target is to create a link between healthcare practitioners involved in the care of residents of aged care facilities, including their GPs and pharmacists. While aged care, general practice and pharmacy software all holds information about individual patients and residents, that information is not shared.

Telstra plans to provide a solution to that problem, Mr Boyce said. “We have infrastructure coming across … [because] to put GP, aged care and pharmacy together we will need to put new infrastructure in place, and we plan to.”

While Mr Boyce did not go into detail, Pulse+IT understands that it involves diagnostic services messaging provider Medinexus, which Telstra has recently acquired.

“You have a number of software solutions for aged care, vendors that provide clinical management software and medication management software,” Mr Boyce said. “That information exists, it is online but basically it is not shared outside the business operation.

“You’ve got GP software like Best Practice and Medical Director and others. That information also supports health data around patients who are also residents in aged care, but that information is not shared.

“You then have a pharmacy with a pharmacy dispensing system. They hold information around a patient’s medication and that patient happens to be a resident of a residential aged care facility. That information, depending on what software you have in the residential aged care facility, is partially shared.

“So what Telstra is about through Telstra Health is connecting those three softwares to provide real-time, contemporary, relevant, valuable information at the fingertips of each of those organisations for patient care and resident care.

“If you can connect to those three – and we have a plan to do that – you can also connect to the geriatrician, you can also connect to the primary carer, the speech pathologist, to the dietitian and the various software that they use. What you need to do that is an interoperable mechanism, and we think we have that solution.”

Telstra is also planning to ramp up its activity in the integrated telehealth market, Ms Pike said. The organisation is already working with health insurer HCF to roll out vital signs monitoring systems to 3500 clients in NSW, but has plans to use the strength of its existing infrastructure and business processes to the job of solving connectivity problems in healthcare.

“Australia’s biggest telco has decided to build an eHealth business,” she said. “There are lots of reasons for that, but mainly we have seen an opportunity to contribute to the health and wellbeing of the country. There are lots of opportunities to derive productivity from a health system overall that is fundamentally inefficient and is not as productive as it could be.

“We know that Telstra has a lot of sophisticated technology and capability but it is not really about technology. I hear it all the time – we’ve got the products, we’ve got the capability, but that capability doesn’t necessarily translate into workable solutions.”

Ms Pike said one of the most common refrains from aged and community care providers was that they were absolutely sick and tired of the numerous pilot projects that are funded, succeed in their limited outcomes but are not sustainable.

“You don’t want the pilot, you want the jumbo,” she said. “The truth is though that the jumbo is not going to come with a truckload of cash from the government. It is going to come in the development of affordable and sustainable solutions.

“You said productivity sounds good but it is actually really hard to derive. For example, you might replace a nurse’s visit to someone’s home with a nurse watching someone taking [their medication] through a telehealth consultation, but before that can happen you have to send the nurse out to turn that tablet [device] on.

“That’s not a driver for productivity. So as Michael said, we are working with partners to provide solutions that are simple, affordable and can integrate with monitoring systems or aged care core systems and link to other primary and tertiary care providers.”

Ms Pike said Telstra plans to introduce a number of technologies such as client portals and devices that allow for home monitoring, telehealth and information sharing. While many of the technologies are now available, one problem that the aged and community sector had raised was that they were proprietary and did not integrate with core systems.

“We don’t want to replicate that,” she said. “We want to make sure that everything that we develop is open, can be integrated, can be seamlessly linked to legacy systems and can be seamlessly integrated into other primary care providers.”

Posted in Aged Care

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