Can technology help overcome Australias healthcare challenges
Can technology help overcome Australia's healthcare challenges?

Australia similar to other more mature markets in the Asia Pacific is increasingly facing a number of healthcare challenges Continued population growth demands for increased access to highquality healthcare an aging population shortage of clinicians and increasing budgetary pressures in healthcare institutions are just some of the issues faced by an already budgetconstrained system

Both public and private healthcare providers are responding by increasing their investment in technology and in particular mobile communications to better enable their workforces But can deployment of technology have the desired snowball effect that will over time overcome these challenges

If appropriately deployed and properly managed absolutely

Like any other business tool technology can be a hindrance or an aid depending on how it is applied how well it fits into an existing system and how and where strategically it is invested

If appropriately provided for and managed technology should help improve patient outcomes particularly it can lead to higher quality patient care reduce cost of care for both healthcare providers and users shorten the time to deliver and receive care and even provide increased patient autonomy in healthcare delivery

The business of healthcare whether at a doctors office hospital outpatient facility or longterm care facility often depends upon a delicate balance between urgency accuracy privacy regulation and technology This can make solving issues in the healthcare industry seem like a daunting task but with the right technology solution many improvements can be seen quickly and easily

Arguably two of the largest issues facing the healthcare industry today are enhancing worker productivity and reducing human error

While computers and networks have been used for some time in healthcare settings they are often still tied to a specific physical location requiring the presence of a clinician

Communication among healthcare workers in different areas often takes place via fixed telephones because most hospital regulations prohibit the use of mobile phones in many areas of their facilities

For clinical professionals such as nurses and physicians every moment that they are tethered to a desktop computer or a fixedwall phone is a moment they arent spending at the bedside with their patients or on the move to their next task Increased mobility coupled with mobile tools that provide secured access to real time data for these professionals means increased productivity better and faster patient care and ultimately enhanced patient outcomes

In addition to productivity a more pressing issue is the reduction of medical errors Human error is often cited as the cause of serious medical errors in hospitals and other healthcare facilities in Australia and this is one area where the right technology can and has evidently started to make an impact

A good local example is Royal Melbourne Hospital which uses handheld computers and an hTrak application in its operating theatres cardiology and radiology departments The solution allows medical equipment be it a stent pacemaker or prosthetic to be tracked and traced during surgery and provides for itemlevel billing to the patients

Where nurses would previously manually record each item in a book the mobile electronic system allows extensive amounts of information to be collected by scanning a barcode on the devicepackaging at the time of use and then uploading that information to a central data store enhancing not only productivity and efficiency but ultimately patient safety

Queenslands Redcliffe Hospital is another example of an Australian health entity implementing mobile solutions The hospital recently implemented a kioskbased patient automated arrival system which has already seen an increase in data accuracy and a reduction in human errors

The system allows patients to scan a barcoded patient appointment letter they receive in the mail at a kiosk to register their arrival at the hospital The kiosk shows them where their specific clinics waiting room is allowing admin and clinical staff at the hospital fewer manual processes to complete and therefore improved quality and timeliness of service

These examples show how providing immediate access to patient data from anywhere in a facility can significantly increase healthcare workers productivity This in turn helps improves the quality of patient care and ultimately reduces costs

That said regulations around patient privacy and safety can make implementing such technical solutions tricky without the help of experienced technology partners

Deploying effective technology solutions often requires substantial investment Technology in a healthcare setting requires more than a notebook computer on a cart True mobility in the form of a handheld quotpocketquot or wearable device using wireless communications for realtime connectivity requires a nextgeneration mobile computing infrastructure

Such an infrastructure includes elements such as data capture technologies such as barcode scanning to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the information captured by the user mobile computers such as PDAs that can be used as communication tools to access patient data at pointofcare wireless networks to securely connect users to servers and databases and application and analytics software to connect manage and monitor it all

The network should be secured and highly scalable with high availability for maximum uptime to support the 24x7 healthcare operations ideally it should also support functions such as locationing used to aid in asset management and tracking and voice communications such as Voice over IP VoIP used in nurse call and other workgroup communication applications

All this may sound daunting but technology is not simply about futureproofing its already happening now

Southern Health in Victoria for example is already using wireless solutions to enable seamless connectivity and deploy bringyourown input device policies across its hospitals

Redcliffe Hospital is now also able to automate the Medicare and Department of Veterans Affairs payment systems via the earlier mentioned checkin kiosk resulting in immediate revenue gains

At its best healthcare technology can help Australian doctors and nurses improve the quality and efficiency of patient care helping to reduce risk and save lives

Whether it be connecting patients to doctors on the move scanning patient information bedside making test results available immediately reducing the risk of human error in the lab pharmacy or donor centre or ensuring the availability of Bnegative blood the right healthcare technology solutions can and will streamline inform simplify verify and support and ultimately help elevate the quality of patient care to an even higher standard of care

Date : 27 Apr, 2012
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