eHealth: does it need the NBN?

Morris Kaplan

Morris Kaplan is a guest blogger.

Morris Kaplan, one-time stockbroker and venture capitalist, brings his finance skills and recent experience as a business journalist and writer to IT, with a special interest in telecoms and how communications is being transformed by technology.

We are drip fed expert opinions on electronic health about the benefits; that’s fine. But there is always a qualifier such as the need for the creation of national high-speed broadband network to become a reality.

The fact is however that Australia health systems already use mobile devices and digital medical records and that the rapid adoption of mobile devices was already prevalent across the health sector.

Here devices are being used by clinicians, nurses as well as patients. Lead author of the Australian National eHealth Strategy, Adam Powick wrote: “The mobile device will be more important than the stethoscope.”

Doctors, far from being luddites are, increasingly bringing iPads and iPhones into their practices, looking for ways to integrate them into the health system.

Overall there is a question, does e-health need the NBN or does the NBN need e-health to help justify its existence?

Hurdles? You bet. A good example of this is the planned Medicare rebates for online consultations between patients and doctors. Here, doubtless there will be many, many potential regulatory hurdles and issues – they need to be raised by those in the individual sectors and dealt with in a practical way. Governments may not be ones to handle this. Markets may.

In the US a stimulus program was signed into law February 17, 2009, providing over USD$19 billion in funds to increase the usage of electronic health records with doctors and hospitals. The idea being to create an electronic medical records system, health professionals will have personal health records available instantly.

This program is known as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH. It is one of several prices of legislation introduced that will change the way medicine is delivered in the US.

US law makers believe it is vital for physicians and health care providers to understand the costs, benefits and choices available to them as EMR becomes increasingly embedded in contemporary medicine.

Software developers in Australia are already capturing a share of the healthcare pie. Tasmanian entrepreneur John Elkerton, co-founder of provider Healthcare Software, says technology will change the face of the healthcare and present opportunities for the small to medium business sector.

His company is enabling the transition away from paper to electronic records, offering vast potential for his fledgling business and other entrepreneurs in the space.

Established in 2005, Healthcare Software has developed a clinical suite of software for hospitals to manage medications, patient referrals, discharge summaries, electronic prescribing, as well as lab and radiology results.

The software takes away the ‘old school’ method of pen and paper, and streamlines communication between the hospital, community care providers and healthcare professionals. He has sold his software to 17 major hospitals throughout Tasmania and South Australia, with 35 forecast for this time next year.

Elkerton and his 12 staff are now focusing efforts on entering other states, as well as branching out internationally into New Zealand and Singapore. e-health - the transition away from paper to electronic records may take years but markets are already moving – well ahead of policy makers.

Tags: NBN, e-health, software developers

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