While IT is transforming Australia's healthcare industry, innovation in the sector is stalling because of security concerns.
Despite this stumbling block, the healthcare sector is enjoying plenty of IT activity and in the past 18 months has been immune to the lacklustre climate many IT vendors have experienced.
While IT has enormous potential for improving patient care and services, some of the most innovative healthcare strategies face privacy and security obstacles which have brought some projects to a grinding halt.
The most notable is the federal government's ambitious program to put all healthcare records online. This task has come under intense scrutiny from industry groups such as the Australian Medical Association (AMA) which opposes the use of individual patient identifiers such as Medicare numbers.
The AMA fears such sensitive data could be misused, especially if it is stored electronically and not secure.
According to information management provider Frame Solution’s chief executive officer Gavin Wright, healthcare providers face mounting pressure to be accountable for any information they collect.
"Consumers are becoming far more litigious about what information is being collected about them. They’re also much more demanding," Wright said. "As a result we are trying to drive more common standards and commercialisation of ideas regarding health IT solutions."
Wright says this is a mammoth task because of a lack of collaboration by IT providers, which is slowing innovation.
"It’s OK to compete, but it’s fantastic to collaborate. Healthcare is a cooperative sector, so you’re more likely to have healthcare providers sharing good ideas concerning IT," he said.
One hospital that is sharing patient records on the Internet is the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne.
RCH head of diabetes services Dr Fergus Cameron has implemented a Web-based program called better diabetes, which delivers significant patient benefits to adolescents with Type 1 diabetes.
"What makes this system unique is it empowers patients to take control of their health. The individual owns and manages the information in the secure database and grants access to healthcare providers," Cameron said.
"With patient consent, we now have real-time access to patient history, which greatly improves medical staff’s ability to provide accurate advice."
Mark Young, director of health at corporate communications provider Damovo, believes that Australia is falling behind other Western countries in healthcare in terms of mobilization, procurement and implementation of leading edge technology.
"It’s vital that hospitals… shift towards a single, integrated network approach to improve healthcare services and clinical quality," Young said. While health is about service, it can also be about revenue.
At the core of Damovo’s healthcare approach is the Heads bedside Point of Care terminal and patient entertainment system, which allows medical staff to examine a patient’s medical records at the bedside and also delivers pay-per-use entertainment services.
"Heads will help reduce administration operational costs while potentially creating an additional revenue stream for hospitals," Young said. Patients in the New England region in Northern NSW are set to benefit from the state’s first, custom-built broadband solution that will improve access to healthcare for its 178,000 residents living in remote locations.
Supported by the federal government's National Communications Fund initiative and the Department of Health and the Office of Information Technology, Telstra and the New England Health Service are creating a single, high-speed video voice and data IP network covering 32 locations and towns in the region.
New England Health Service chief executive officer, Fergus Fitzsimons, said the deployment of Telstra’s IP-based network means faster access to services and removes the need to transport patients long distances.
For doctors, they can view and transfer patient information such as x-rays, test results and MRI scans from their desktop computer. Are you undertaking an innovative IT health project?