Streamlining IT a hospital cure-all?

Solving the dilemma of disparate health care IT systems and duplicate patient records could go some way towards reducing the nation's hospital waiting lists.

Apart from issues of beds and staffing levels, which the "medical profession" needs to resolve, Des Powell, managing director of SeeBeyond, said the underlying administrative issues are impacting on waiting lists and waiting times.

Changes in clinical urgency for each patient, transfers between waiting lists at different hospitals, removals and additions to lists and the speed and accuracy of patient processing are some of the issues, he said..

"Across Australia during 2000-2001, there were around 584,000 additions and 600,000 removals to waiting lists - that's only one parameter but alone it creates a huge flow of data and significant potential for duplication and error."

Jeff Crompton, clinical informatics coordinator for the Wentworth Area Health Service (WAHS) agrees that legacy systems and duplication of patient records were big issues within hospitals.

"We have 40 to 60 potential duplications a day," he said, which could result in numerous records for one patient and repeat blood and x-ray testing.

Powell's company is rolling out integration technology e*Gate Integrator to all public hospitals in NSW, Queensland and Tasmania.

He said unique patient identifier technology, giving health care practitioners the ability to look at a patient's record across multiple hospitals and states, thus improving the accuracy of waiting lists, will be rolled out throughout NSW within the next 18 months. The technology, e*Index Global Identifier, has been deployed within four area health services in NSW, one in Queensland and one in Victoria. Tasmania's health care providers should be outfitted with the technology by the end of the year.

Another industry voice believes a global, comprehensive electronic health record system would bring more benefits to the medical profession and patients than a cure for AIDS or cancer.

The Australian Federal Government will begin trials of its national electronic database HealthConnect in September.

However, e-health expert and CEO of the Medical Records Institute in the US, Peter Waegemann believes the health care sector would be better placed if the IT industry and practitioners stopped dragging their heels.

He said many health IT companies are "quite content to work with old technologies" and that many of them were not sure if and when health care providers will demand new, interoperable systems.

Speaking at the HIC2002 conference in Melbourne, Waegemann also pointed the finger at health care practitioners not using computers in their examination rooms as a major reason for the lack of progress in health IT.

He said this was a key issue in the realisation of electronic health records.

"Accurate, accessible and sharable health information is a well accepted prerequisite of good health care. Yet, all health systems in the world continue to accept illegible handwriting and other documentation."

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