Let’s face it, eHealth can be extremely complex. It’s no wonder then – despite the current hype surrounding eHealth – a solid understanding of the new initiative is not yet established throughout our aged care community.
So what exactly is eHealth and what does it mean for the future of aged care? We’ve compiled the answers to these questions along with an overview of other eHealth essentials, in the post below.
eHealth, short for electronic health, is all about moving away from the inefficient use of pen and paper-based processes and towards a connected electronic system where information can be accessed and shared securely online between Medicare, health and aged care providers and consumers.
For those who prefer a textbook definition, eHealth is the electronic collection, management, use, storage and sharing of information across the healthcare system to deliver safer, more efficient, and better quality care.
The opportunity for eHealth in Australia
We are lucky in the fact that Australia has one of the leading healthcare systems in the world. However, most people would have to agree that the outdated ways in which our health information is captured and shared is cumbersome and frankly, no longer sustainable.
Our diverse population of about 21 million people is made up of a wide spectrum of geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our personal health and care needs vary greatly, and the services provided to us come from a fragmented network of doctors, nurses, carers and other professionals working autonomously in thousands of public and private sector hospital, general practice, specialist, community, health and aged care settings.
Consider for a moment that the average Australian has approximately 22 interactions with the healthcare system each year. This includes four visits to a general practitioner (GP), three visits to medical specialist, two visits to an allied health professional, one visit to the dentist and 12 pharmacy presentations. Ostensibly, elderly Australians are interacting with the healthcare system much more frequently.
Almost all of these interactions will generate patient records and important health information. Yet none of this information can be easily accessed and shared between health and aged care providers or consumers, without the capabilities of an efficient eHealth system.
We live in an era where technology has revolutionised so many aspects of our lives. The way we work, live, entertain, shop and communicate have all been transformed by advancements in technology. The time to make use of these advancements to enhance this country’s healthcare system – particularly within the aged care sector – had arrived.
In 2008, Deloitte was appointed by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC) to develop a national eHealth strategy for Australia. According to Deloitte, the vision was to “enable a safer, higher quality, more equitable and sustainable health system for all Australians by transforming the way information is used to plan, manage and deliver healthcare services throughout the country.”
Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records
Australia’s eHealth record system is supported by a framework consisting of Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records (PCEHR), which the Australian Government officially rolled out in July, 2012.
A PCEHR is simply an eHealth record that gathers health and care information from GPs, hospitals, imaging centres, medical specialists, allied health professionals and pharmacies to present a comprehensive summary of a person’s medical status and history.
People of any age can now register for their PCEHR. As of July 2013, the total number of people currently on the system was 520,000. eHealth records can be accessed by the person who owns the record (patient, resident or client), their authorised or nominated representatives and their treating health and aged care providers.
Health and aged care providers must also be registered before they can participate in the eHealth record system. Since last year, almost 5000 GP practices, hospitals, and other healthcare organisations have already signed up to access patient and resident health information.
How can eHealth improve standards in aged care?
With the introduction and increasing uptake of eHealth records, aged care providers are in a position to harness the countless benefits and importantly, generate better outcomes for their residents and clients.
The myriad benefits our eHealth system offers for aged care include faster, easier access to resident and client health information, greater efficiencies, reduced risks, enhanced continuity of care and improved treatment decisions.
Faster and easier access to one source of information
With access to your residents’ and clients’ own eHealth records, your care and nursing staff will always have instant access to the right information, at the right time, and for the right person. And as a result of the improved accuracy, completeness and accessibility of their personal health information, your residents and clients will receive safer, more appropriate care.
The shift from a fragmented health system to an integrated health system will also mean that aged care providers can effortlessly share vital information with other providers in the health care network – GPs, hospitals, specialists and other health professionals included. Information about a resident will follow them from facility admission, to hospital transfer and discharge, or to visit with a specialist, and back to the facility again.
The overall coordination and delivery of care services, particularly for residents with chronic or complex conditions, will also become more efficient and streamlined.
Improvements in treatment decisions
As Australia’s eHealth system grows by the day, it is also giving aged care providers and the wider health care network the information needed to make the best collective decision about an individual’s health care needs.
With fast and easy access to a comprehensive summary of health information for residents and clients, care providers can make better informed decisions and as a result, deliver higher quality care and support. An eHealth system will also ensure that the most appropriate diagnoses and treatment is delivered at the point of care, even during emergency situations.
Greater efficiencies and reduced risks
Consolidated, up-to-date information about residents and clients stored in an online eHealth record will also lead to safer, more effective care and a reduction in risks.
With less reliance on paper records and human memory, there will be reductions in clinical risk and errors as well as avoidable medication-related adverse events. A single, accurate health information source at the point of care also leads to increased responsiveness and preventative care. While efficiencies around decision making and appropriate care and treatment will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the allocation of funding.
An eHealth system that is person-centred will also encourage every Australian to play a more active role in managing their personal health and care outcomes. By improving access to health information and control over who has access to that information, there will be great benefits in the increased interaction between health and aged care providers and residents, clients and their families.
What additional benefits do you believe the eHealth system will bring to aged care? Share these, along with your eHealth questions, in the comments section below.
(Image credit: Ambro)