The advancement of medical science has been wonderful in that more diseases and treatments are being identified and treated. The innovation of medical technologies has evolved to also provide the convenience of eradicating the long waiting times patients and doctors have had to historically wait to receive medical imagery or results.
As the aging population continues to boom, this is not only putting pressure on the healthcare system but growing patient expectations are placing higher demands on the healthcare sector too. The instant availability of patient data means X-Rays, MRI scans, ultrasound images and laboratory test results are sent directly to monitors on the wall or a doctor’s tablet.
This enables the main healthcare provider, often the General Practitioner (GP), to maintain the ongoing patient connection. Even when they are referred to third party specialists, they still have access to all relevant patient information at any time.
The digital format for recording patient information is the EHR (Electronic Health Record) or sometimes the EMR (Electronic Medical Record) and includes patient demographics, medical history, medical data and laboratory test results. It is a form of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for the healthcare sector and helps maintain the connection between the patient and their primary healthcare provider.
The EHR is crucial to diagnosing patients and treating them. It provides the patient’s history, past treatments, as well as vital signs and these things need to be assessed together when making decisions about treating a patient.
Public versus private hospitals
Australian public hospitals are largely funded in advance based on state and federal funding programs.
The real issue with the Australian healthcare system is that it is a notoriously fragmented ecosystem of GPs, specialists, allied health, as well as a combination of both public and private hospitals. The problem that they are currently trying to solve is to deliver a digital health platform that all providers in the health ecosystem can access so that they have that single view of a patient’s EHR.
Digital transformation in healthcare
Despite the apparent technical aspects of modern medicine, it is one of the last segments of the economy to become widely accepting of digital transformation for a variety of practical and privacy reasons. When it comes to the biggest impediments facing the healthcare sector in digitally transforming, the main issue lies in the complexity of the funding models. In Australia, the problem is that we’ve had a lot of systems that operate in silos because of the way that the health system is funded.
Electronic medical records have been fully embraced, particularly by healthcare administrators in the private sector and now by the state and territory governments with responsibility for healthcare. The two overarching goals of moving to the EHR are improved patient care and lower healthcare costs.
These medical records can be shared securely between other health providers using Enterprise Document Sharing (XDS). It is essential to monitor the network and hardware components involved with EHR processing to ensure that they are always accessible and updated. However, for patient privacy, only the data type, volume, pathway and device state are monitored, no individual details are accessible.
Patient privacy is paramount
Australia’s need for a connected healthcare system has never been more significant and it needs to be accessible, progressive and secure. However, there are still substantial concerns over the privacy of digital patient records in Australia and who can get access to them.
Initially, there was a lot of scrutiny over the opt-in EHR for Australians, the My Health Record, launched a few years ago due to concerns over privacy and security of private medical information.
According to the Australian Digital Health Agency — the Government organisation managing the My Health Record — during the 2020–21 period the total active records in the My Health Record System was 23 million. Compared to the 2019–20 period, 2.69 million people accessed their My Health Record in 2020–21, which is a 14 percent increase on the previous year. This has been mainly driven by people accessing Covid-19 vaccination records and Covid-19 test results.
The Australian Digital Health Agency continues to make the My Health Record more accessible to everyone through making the My Health Record available through the HealthNow app. Information that is available on the app includes general immunisation history statements, hospital discharge summaries, advanced care directives and information about medications and allergies. Likewise, rise of online booking platforms such as HotDoc is showing how the adoption of digital health is being transformed. In January this year, the number of patient bookings through HotDoc reached three million — which was more than doubled from January 2020 figures.
With more interactions moving to eHealth, patient care has been completely reimagined and the experience for patients has undoubtedly improved due to the increased connection with primary healthcare providers. The accessibility of the EHR means individuals can take more control over their healthcare journey and make more informed decisions in consultation with their healthcare providers; however, it is essential for healthcare providers to remain on top of monitoring their complex IT infrastructures, ensuring they are operating at their optimal level.
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