The last bastion

The last bastion

The IT industry is clamouring to take advantage of the huge opportunities offered by digitising Australia’s ailing healthcare industry. But will the strategy work?

As for interoperability, it relies on politics as much as technology. Some analysts suggest that the Howard Government's abandoned 'Access Card' would have provided the means by which patients could uniquely be identified and records exchanged. Its downfall - concerns over privacy - may also plague future efforts to come up with a unified patient record.

There's also a cultural change required within the health industry itself, McCabe said. 'From my observations, one of the real challenges is around doctors themselves," he said. "It's not about privacy, it's about doctors feeling that they 'own' patients and own that data - that it's the basis of their business."

"There are a lot of warring factions," King said. "And they all have genuine interests. But some parties will have to compromise. When you look at a GP claiming ownership of records, it's this simple - the emphasis has to be about care of patients, not running a commercial business.

"It's not unreasonable to expect that part of that information, considering the amount of Government funding that goes into healthcare, should be available to the rest of the system."

Other hot areas

Once the vision of a more horizontal and patient-centric system is achieved, the possibilities start to open up for more cutting edge IT solutions to come to the fore.

Managing director of clinical trial management ISV, Evado, Jennie Anderson, said opportunities existed beyond the huge applications needed for managing health records. Monitoring was one area worth consideration as the convergence of mobile devices, networks and applications enable high-risk or chronic patients to be managed in the home.

McCabe said 'continuous monitoring' is the key to reducing the burden on hospitals and aged care facilities. It involves aged care patients, people with disabilities or people with chronic illness using wearable devices or devices mounted in the home that connect wirelessly to patient administration systems and continuously upload information on the status of the patient.

"I expect to see a future where anybody over the age of 70 wearing one of these devices is interfaced back to the hospital via their cell phone," he said.

Telstra is one Australian company convinced of the power of such an application. The carrier is seeking commercial models for several devices and related services which, when connected to the mobile phone via Bluetooth and in turn transmitted across its Next G network, can alert the patient, their family or doctor around key health indicators.

"It's about helping people manage their illness better," Telstra's Elizabeth Aris said.

"We are working out the best commercial model needed. For a solution like this, there's a pharmacy involved to sell the device, a doctor involved to monitor the data, an end patient. The reality is that all of them are likely to be a Telstra customer, so we have a unique position."

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