How do they do IT? eHealth’s bleeding edge part 1

The NBN has being touted as a cure-all for eHealth across the nation but hospitals, medical schools and medical professionals show eHealth is fighting fit


Out of both need and innovation, technology enabling greater mobility of staff at all levels in the health sector has been one of the great e-health success stories.

Devices and communication media such as tablet PCs, laptops, SMS, Skype and email are being trialed and used to share and communicate in hospitals around the country.

As one of the largest healthcare providers in Victoria, Southern Health comprises a number of sites including the Monash Medical Centres in Clayton and Moorabbin, Dandenong Hospital, Casey Hospital, the Kingston Centre as well as various small satellite sites. According to the organisation’s CapIT manager, Donovan Ferguson, Casey Hospital is the designated guinea pig for technology trials due to its full spectrum of patients which enables staff to try different devices across a range of disciplines.

Recently the organisation trialed a “100 per cent wireless” work project that enabled staff to use laptops and tablets anywhere in the hospital. As a result, the emergency department is now about to deploy tablet devices for its staff to test and establish what works best.

“We’ll be looking at whether they need a keyboard, [if they] can function using touchscreens, and what happens to these devices when they get blood, vomit or urine on them,” he says.

“These things must be considered when you get rid of clipboards, which can easily be thrown in the bin. You’ve got to be able to clean these devices otherwise they become an infection control risk.”

As with any technological implementation, mobile devices come with challenges, such as identifying the most appropriate device to support clinical workflow as well as ensuring integration with new and existing systems. An aversion to technology among senior clinicians is also not uncommon.

However, among nursing staff tablets and smartphones are being embraced, Royal District Nursing Service acting CIO, Grant Ironside, says. The technology has become so popular that training on mobile devices has become part of the organisation’s induction process.

“We have two formalised session that look at familiarity with the device in general and the specific tools on the device,” Ironside says. “Delivering that training we have clinical staff, so we can cover off clinical issues and technology issues as they arise on those sessions.”

“It’s about delivering even more mobile services to a mobile workforce. We’ve got a more dispersed workforce, and while that has offered us some great opportunities, it has been hard for us to create collaboration, and for our staff to get in touch with experts in [particular subjects]. Next on the agenda is that we’re really trying to get a collaboration suite in place, and that’s leveraging all of the things we’ve got in play.”

Over at St Vincent’s and Mater Hospitals’ Roffe has started implementing tablets at the health service's public hospital — primarily for viewing patient scans, records and other data — and echoes this sentiment.

The hospital’s public ward uses eight wireless laptops and 14 fixed desktops for entering information into a patient’s electronic record, a task that is carried out by junior doctors and requires a keyboard.

“Senior doctors just want to view the information; that’s where tablets come in. The senior doctors view the data and then liaise with the junior doctors about changing or entering information on the laptops,” he says.

However, in the private wards the process is vastly different, Roffe says, where having only a small number of doctors mean nurses do most of the day-to-day work on their own dedicated terminal

Tomorrow in part two: new

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