GPs among leaders in adopting healthcare technology

Larissa Dubecki

2/11/2017 12:04:13 PM

From wearable devices tracking health data to doctors consulting with patients via a computer screen, technology has become an integral part of the modern practitioner’s arsenal.

Healthcare technology has become an integral part of general practice
Healthcare technology has become an integral part of general practice

GPs are generally a tech-savvy lot; two-thirds of Australian GPs recommend health apps to their patients, as indicated by the recent RACGP’s recent benchmark General practice: Health of the nation 2017 report . They are quick to report the benefits of technology in general practice – particularly clinical practice – in areas such as generating electronic referrals, using patient data in real-time clinical decisions and communicating more effectively with other healthcare providers.
However, it remains a bugbear of the Australian healthcare system that the current state of eHealth – the electronic collection, management, use, storage and sharing of healthcare information – is not as healthy as it might be. Systemic issues, including limited training and funding, as well as a lack of integration with other IT services, are proving a handbrake on the more effective use of technology in general practice.
For example, fewer than one-third of GPs reported using telehealth services. A valuable tool for patient interaction, telehealth’s scope tends to be confined to the areas of video consultations with other healthcare providers and for training.
Dr Nathan Pinskier, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – eHealth and Practice Systems (REC–eHPS), told newsGP that while GPs had effectively made the transition to computers and assisted technology over the past decade, other areas of healthcare have been slower to adopt similar technologies.
‘The biggest problem is more in the allied health system and possibly the specialist area, where there is still significant reliance on paper-based records,’ he said.
The most significant task of the REC–eHPS’s upcoming third annual eHealth Forum, to be held on Thursday 23 November, would thus be to drive the change needed for system-wide communication to share clinical information among healthcare providers of all stripes.
‘We would like to see national approaches and the development of a common standard so that anyone in this space can plug and play,’ Dr Pinskier said. ‘It’s about getting multiple stakeholders to agree, with government as the key influencer and driver.’
An important consideration for any universally adopted system is that data be presented in atomic form in order to ensure its machine readability.
‘It’s not just interconnectivity we need, but that readability so we can have data analysis, data mining and machine learning,’ Dr Pinskier said. ‘It really will become a reality over the next decade.’
Dr Rob Hosking, a GP and member of the REC–eHPS, described interoperability – namely the ability of different computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information – as the number one technical hurdle facing GPs in the transfer of health information.
‘We need interoperability in secure messaging,’ he told newsGP. ‘At the moment, each hospital is requiring us to install their own particular product they use. I’m hopeful the Australian Digital Health Agency will be able to guide that and make it actually happen.’
The other pressing technical issue for GPs, according to Dr Hosking, is the Federal Government’s My Health Record and the use of data put up by GPs.
‘There needs to be greater education of the public about what signing up [to My Health Record] means,’ he said. ‘The way the Government has set up the participation agreement relinquishes them of responsibility. It’s left to GPs to explain the system to patients in our consulting rooms.
‘But if the system is misused and we as GPs have signed people up, can it come back on us legally? It’s a medico-legal minefield.’

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