The below quote taken from a report commissioned from the APH sums up how exciting, life-changing and powerful eHealth can potentially be to the way we practise medicine.
Healthcare and technology have long been very potent bedfellows, from the birth of the stethoscope all the way through to the invention of the MRI and the defibrillator, these developments are constantly changing the way the medical field can understand and heal the body.
As the rate of technological innovation speeds up, new and exciting advances are being created all the time.
So why then is eHealth, so significant? Why, amongst all the many exciting breakthroughs in this field, is it being touted as the most important?
What is eHealth?
To appreciate its significance, it is useful to have an understanding of what exactly it is: eHealth is described by the National eHealth Transition Authority as:
At a glance this seems deceptively simple. Essentially it’s a way to share information. However, creating systems to do this well in healthcare could completely and utterly transform the way patients can be treated, and in doing so jump over hurdles that have long been a problem for practitioners and patients.
The tyranny of distance, aptly described in the APH report, is a major problem in healthcare, particularly in Australia. And it’s not just about getting doctors to remote areas; it encompasses the idea that people need to have access to all different types of practitioners, particularly specialists.
As it currently stands, in regional Australia if you need a specialist you need to get yourself to a major city, an exercise that is costly and very stressful. eHealth will be an invaluable tool in navigating these vast distances.
A GP or nurse in a tiny area can get in touch with a city specialist, consult with them and be given easy access to a centralised patient data-base. Based on the conversation, a specialist can recommend an action.
Outcome: there is no travelling involved for either the patient or the specialist, and cases where timing is a critical factor, this could be life saving.
This is valuable not just for Australians, but also for third world countries, where medical assets and knowledge can be poor, or where there may be trouble getting practitioners into a region.
One of the biggest focuses of eHealth is the collection, analysis and movement of health information and data.
A centralised collection of data that is easily accessed could have so many benefits for both patients and practitioners. Not only would you be able to get a good understanding of a patient’s history at a glance, but practitioners within the framework could pool their knowledge.
As a healthcare worker, you could do a search of unusual symptoms to see how others with the same symptoms were diagnosed.
Theoretically, you could use the information to find patterns and quickly discover epidemics spreading across the region.
From 2005 the Czech Republic rolled out a national data sharing system where both patients and healthcare professionals can easily access the complete medical history of a patient (however only a medical practitioner can change the data).
This means that anyone who needs access to a patient’s history can do so very quickly.
The gamut of information spans everything from allergies to level of healthcare coverage.
The benefits of this system are obvious. From being able to make informed decisions quickly in life-threatening situations when a patient is unable to contribute information, to being able to have a very comprehensive overview of a history, eHealth has helped medical professionals pick up on conditions that may have been missed, because unlike the traditional way, all the pieces of the puzzle are easily available.
The sharing of information won’t just be for practitioners, it will also be useful in allowing patients to really take ownership of their health. If patients have access to their records, they will have a very good idea of how they need to treat ailments and also what they need to do to prevent future problems.
In Denmark there is a central point where the Danish can access all their medical needs.
In this system all Danish residents are given a unique identification number. Using it, they can renew prescriptions, book appointments, and email practitioners.
This program has been an enormous success in Denmark and it’s not hard to see why.
There is no need to go the doctor’s for trivial matters and it also means that practitioners are not spending so much time on administration, which means that the face-to-face time can be more meaningfully spent with those who truly need it.
The future of healthcare?
Even though the idea seems simple, the potential of eHealth is enormous. If made a priority then even people in the remotest, the poorest and the most dangerous parts of the globe could have access to prompt and good medical advice. This isn’t just a game changer, this could be a lifesaver on the very biggest of scales.