eHealth is experiencing many exciting leaps and bounds of late, and the more technology improves the way we practise medicine, the easier it will become for people in remote areas to access quality health services, while also improving access to health information and increasing patient safety.
Although this is the case, there are still many barriers for people living in remote areas when it comes to receiving the right healthcare and the right access to information. More often that not, rural or remote areas make it hard for patients to travel the distance to receive care, and there may also be language or cultural barriers that make it difficult for patients to access healthcare.
Let’s take a look at some of the latest eHealth initiatives that help consumers access their information more readily, while also bridging the gap for those who live in remote areas.
Telehealth to improve access to healthcare in remote areas
If a patients in remote areas have difficulty accessing consultations, telehealth offers video-conferencing for those who lack immediate access to healthcare professionals.
Essentially, telehealth is the delivery of health-related services and transmit health information via telecommunications services over distances.
The benefits are:
- By reducing the need to travel great distances to see a specialist.
- Using it as an incredible tool for pre- and postoperative care.
- It also provides health services in a much timelier manner, leading to earlier detection.
- Telehealth helps rural doctors seek a second opinion from other specialists around the globe.
- It enables doctors to get remote help to manage emergency and unplanned patient presentations.
- Its also gives staff access to receive remote education, training and support on location.
Between July 2011 and February 2013 the total amount of video consultations in Australia skyrocketed. By the end of March 2013 the Department of Human Services had processed more than 77,000 telehealth services payments, provided to over 33,000 patients by more than 7,700 practitioners.
My Health Record
Recently re-launched from the personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) initiative, My Health Record aim to give patients and health professionals immediate access to health information, such as prescribed medications, diagnosis details and treatments, allergies and medical procedures, and provide vital information in the case of emergencies.
The revamped PCEHR will also see an improvement in patient privacy, and it includes legislation mandating fines and jail sentences for anyone who unlawfully access patient information.
In theory, centralising the information in this way will:
- Increase patient care, regardless of the patient’s location
- Reduce the taxpayer’s cost for healthcare
The above will make access to patient records easier and faster as doctors and nurses will have all the information they need in a sole location
This combined with telehealth will enable patients in rural and remote areas to receive better care.
eSafety & the establishment of practice standards
Earlier this month, the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) released Australia’s first draft of professional practice standards for eSafety. This was developed to ensure that patient safety is front of mind when implementing eHealth.
The Federal Government has not yet approached the litigation stage of ensuring patient safety, however, with development in technology making patient’s information easier to access than ever, there are more risks being introduced into the mix when it comes to IT security and safety.
Associate Professor Williams stated that these safety standards and guidelines will fill a gap for the professional and will allow individuals and organisations to focus on esafety benchmarks.
Dr Williams states: “There is more focus on the safety of health IT systems now, whether it is software or medical devices, but there is no one particular guidance for people working in health IT about eSafety, nothing about what they should be doing”.
What lies in the future of eHealth?
The advancement of technology will lead to further improvements in eHealth and better access to health services in remote locations. As systems and technology evolve, there will be big developments in the space of education and early detection.
The synchronisation between technology and health information is boundless. The more information healthcare professionals have access too, the more protection and privacy awarded to patients, and the integration of healthcare systems across states, will all well and truly create a world-class healthcare system within Australia.
But what are the first steps? Although telehealth can bride the gap for those who live in remote areas, many people would still require access to the internet, as well as the infrastructure that enables them to connect remotely with a healthcare professional.
Some patients may also require training for how to use tele-conferencing software such as Skype, so this may also prove to be a barrier moving into the future.
For now, the first steps we’ve taken have put Australia on the right track. The further develop of My Health Record and the regulation and compliance of eSafety practise guidelines will set the tone for future success in eHealth.
Want to find out more about how Australia is tracking in the eHealth space. Check out the agenda for eHealth 2016, conference powered by CeBIT Australia.