Reflections On The IT/IM Survey

Note: This article should be read with reference to the article and tables available here.

Connectivity And Specialist Computerisation

Will 2007 be “The Year of Secure Electronic Communication”?

Given the lack of government incentive, and the historical inability of the profession to adopt unsubsidised technology, I expect this would be an overstatement. These results clearly indicate however, that there is widespread acknowledgment of the importance of more efficient communication between the various health sector participants.

The acknowledgment by GPs of the importance of specialist computerisation is intrinsically linked to their desire to see the widespread adoption of secure electronic communication. Whether it is due to a lack of financial incentive or lack of perceived benefit, specialists are not adopting technology at the rate required to allow the full potential of secure electronic communication to be realised by the sector as a whole.

In the absence of any large-scale government intervention, a concerted effort by GPs at the grass roots level will be required to affect this change. The AMA and AGPN (formerly ADGP) need to show strong leadership on this issue, regardless of where their traditional responsibilities lie.

Support

With a background in software support, the high value placed on timely support by the survey participants came as no surprise. Contrasted with the low ranking of “the ability to customise software”, the majority of doctors appear quite happy to forgo “bells and whistles” providing their software is stable and effective support is provided in a timely fashion. Several “off-survey” requests for less frequent and more reliable software updates support this notion, a sentiment that software developers seem to be acknowledging with many moving away from fixed release dates.

Ageing Population

One thing that struck me early in the data management phase of the research was the age of the GP respondents. Perhaps pointing to wider workforce issues, only 8 GPs under the age of 40 responded to the survey. Given that stereotypically, younger members of the population are more comfortable and interested in technology, I found it interesting that over half of the GP respondents were eligible for Super entitlements!

What About Standards?

Because of the scope of the survey, I expected the responding group to be primarily comprised of GPs with an interest in technology and its application in health. While I feel this assumption eventuated, there was little acknowledgement of the importance of standards and the current < a href="http://www.nehta.gov.au">National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) initiatives (namely SNOMED-CT and the pursuit of a single national patient identifier).

Dr Ron Tomlins, Chair of the GPCG stated that “The low ranking given to standards and systems based issues that may underpin clinical efficiency and efficacy is to be expected as most GPs are not IT-savvy and only interested in doing their primary job of delivering care.”

This is view is supported by Sydney GP Dr Robert Lewin who said that “Users aren’t interested in IT except where it directly impacts on practice performance.”

When asked to comment on the survey results, Frank Pyfinch, a practising GP and founder of Best Practice said that “GPs are interested in providing the best quality of care for their patients in the most efficient way possible. Population health is the domain of government, not of private General Practice.”

Government has many options available to it to ensure standards are adopted by the industry. While vendor incentives are important, ultimately a high priority needs to be placed on the direct education of doctors and practice staff. Software developers have limited resources and respond best to customers demands as evidenced by the uptake of Online Claiming by both vendors, and in turn practices.

Bring On The PIP!

As alluded to in the November edition of Pulse IT, I encourage Medicare Australia to fast track a new PIP IT/IM incentive to provide practices with more ambitious secure messaging goal posts. Despite the financial and efficiency benefits that can result from secure messaging in its own right, financial incentives and a concerted effort by secure communications providers will be required to get both specialist and GP practices moving en masse.

Conclusion

Despite the low response, this survey clearly highlights the innovations software developers and Government should be pursuing.

As Geoffrey Sayer, the surveys designer puts succinctly, “End users are after applications that allow them to effectively, safely and efficiently care for their patients.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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