Health | Ageing

Ending the tyranny of the fax machine in clinical practice

In the background of our mission to provide great health service, we can hear the faint whirring of the fax machine and that’s a noise we need to remove, Australian Digital Health Agency Chief Executive Officer, Tim Kelsey said at the CEDA South Australia digital health event.

“It is the job of the whole community to bring the benefits of digital technology to life in healthcare,” he said.

“The good news is we have a common vision, I think everybody can see the opportunities in putting health in the palms of people’s hands.

“Of having hospitals be able to securely and seamlessly share information with GPs, with allied health professionals, with carers.”

Mr Kelsey said there is growing impatience at the lack of digital health in Australia. 

“Many people are familiar with the piles of paper that migrate with them as they move from care service to care service,” he said. 

“It’s inconvenient and grossly undignified to be on the receiving end of a system that doesn’t remember you, that has no memory, that forces you to be the only one who knows what medications you’re on, what allergies you have. 

“And for many people, particularly those with chronic illness, it’s a very difficult thing for them to do, they’re at their most vulnerable and they’re being asked to remember things, and this is no way to run a modern health service.”

Mr Kelsey said digital health will save lives and improve patient care. 

“There are currently around 230,000 instances of the wrong drug being prescribed because the doctor doesn’t know which drugs they’re on,” he said.

“There are more people who die from adverse drug events in Australia than from road traffic accidents. 

“Roughly speaking the evidence in peer-reviewed literature suggests that a GP wastes about 10 per cent of their time hunting for paper records when they could have access to them in other, more convenient ways.”

Mr Kelsey said the new National Digital Health Strategy has received strong support from those in the industry and provides the platform for the roll out of the My Health Record program. 

“To try and crystallise into human outcomes what this strategy means, the first outcome is that by the end of 2018 every Australian will have a My Health Record, unless they’ve chosen to opt out of that scheme,” he said. 

“This will make Australia the first country in the world to provide mobile access to medical information on that scale to their citizens. 

“There are smaller countries that have shown the way – Denmark, Israel – but no one on this scale.
Mr Kelsey said it is an unprecedented opportunity for Australia.

“For the first time, clinicians and patients will be able to engage in a digital conversation about their healthcare,” he said.

“It gives people much more control and empowerment.”

Mr Kelsey said by the end of 2019 the fax machine problem will be solved. 

“We will collectively have constructed a national email address book, which means that clinicians across Australia will be able to communicate with each other without resorting to paper,” he said.

“That’s not just administratively a great thing, it’s also about the safety of their patients. 

“By 2020 every newborn in Australia will have access to a lifetime e-health record.

“And by 2022, the end of this phase of the strategy, we will see the first regions in Australia interoperate comprehensively across all their care settings. 

“So, the aged-care facility can communicate with the hospital, which can communicate with the general practitioner, all in real-time.”

Mr Kelsey said the roll out won’t be easy and there will be many challenges including data security and accessibility. 

“What will we do with people who don’t have access to broadband, what do we do about people who can’t read English, how do we ensure that the visually impaired in Australia are able to listen to their record rather than have to read it,” he said. 

“These are very challenging issues and one of the reasons why I’m excited about the prospect of implementing this strategy in Australia is everybody is around the table and it needs the genius of all sections of the community, whether its industry or consumer advocacy, to help solve some of those problems.

“Let’s get the basics right, let’s do that together as a community.

“If the world is full of faxes, it will not be full of stratified medicines and people will die if we don’t get this right.

“I believe this is the most important social priority of our time.”