Tech boost for health access

Eyenaemia Cooee February 2016

Tech boost for health access

Technology is changing the face of health delivery across the planet.

The United Nations recognised this in November 2015 when it appointed former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby to a high level panel on health technologies.

The panel will make recommendations for how health technology innovation can be balanced with access for all, “so that no one is left behind in the pursuit of a healthy and productive life”.

This has particular resonance in Australia where gaps in workforce and vast distances are perennial challenges to accessible healthcare.

It is something that has exercised the minds of former WILDFIRE Rural Health Club members Jennifer Tang and Jarrel Seah who are developing a smartphone app for the detection of anaemia in remote communities.

Their award-winning Eyenaemia project has attracted support from Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates.

Meanwhile, a new tele-chemotherapy program allows nurses on Thursday Island in Australia’s Torres Strait to administer cancer-fighting drugs locally while being guided and advised over video link by medical oncologists and chemotherapy nurses in Cairns.

These are two examples where new and existing players in the health sector are leveraging technology to drive change.

Telstra Health is at the forefront of what some have termed the ‘uberisation’ of medicine. Its ReadyCare telemedicine service offers phone and video consultations with GPs 24 hours a day from an office in Sydney.

And the RACGP has recognised the role that online interventions can play in the treatment and prevention of mental illness. It has developed a guide for GPs on e-Mental health.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Australian Government is pursuing an eHealth agenda to electronically connect the different points of care so that health information can be shared securely.

It has passed legislation that will allow it to create electronic health records for all Australians based on Medicare records, unless they choose to opt out of the process.

Voluntary consumer registrations for Australia’s My Health Record (formerly PCEHR) have already hit the 2.5 million mark. In addition, the system has been signed up to by 5,212 general practices, 214 hospital groups, 1,161 retail pharmacies and 155 residential aged care organisations.

By stripping out personal identifiers, the government hopes it will be able to use the medical records to identify health trends and inform research, policy, and quality improvement in the health system.

Researchers overseas have used de-identified health data to investigate the connection between various diabetes medications and heart attack risk, and analysed US veterans’ health records to select the most effective treatments for things like post-traumatic stress disorder and antibiotic-resistant staph infection.

Let us know your thoughts about innovation and health care. What have you seen and experienced that you would like to share with others?