An interconnected Australian healthcare sector with collaboration transcending state borders, stunning ieMR stats at Princess Alexandra Hospital, and patient records on mobile phones are all on the mind of the man driving the digital health reformation in Queensland, as the state readies to flick on yet another implementation.

With Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital primed to go live with its ieMR in early April, eHealth Queensland’s CEO Dr Richard Ashby is clearly a man with momentum.

“By this time next year approximately half of the state's population will be draining to digital hospitals,” he said.

“We’ll have the entire health services south of the Brisbane River to the border fully digital. And Metro South will have become the first digital health service in Australia with all of its hospitals digitised.”

And when Ashby talks digital hospitals, he isn’t talking about partial implementations “with some departments still on paper”. In Queensland, this emergency medicine specialist and former Metro South Hospital and Health Service CEO is thinking in transformational terms.

It is no surprise given the new figures from Princess Alexandra Hospital, which became fully digital a year ago. In 2017, medication errors at the leading tertiary facility dropped by 44 per cent, emergency readmissions within 28 days of discharge were 17 per cent less, drug costs per weighted activity unit were 14 per cent lower, hospital-acquired pressure injuries dropped by 56 per cent, healthcare associated infections lessened by 37 per cent, while the early identification of deteriorating patients increased by 59 per cent.

Speaking with Healthcare IT News Australia, Ashby said the early results showcase the tangible, real-life benefits of digital health.

“By improving that precision of medicine and the reliability of that care we’re seeing really fantastic results in our hospitals,” he said. “We’re seeing double-digit improvement in all of those things and the clinical outcomes that reflect that information going out to workers. That reliability translates not just into better care, it translates into more cost effective care.”

But that’s just the beginning, according to this digital health evangelist, with so much more to be achieved through technologies.

“We see the systems that we're putting in like ieMR as foundational tools. They are not the end game. Lots of places, even whole countries, think that just because they’ve made the patient record electronic well that's it. But it's not. That is just the foundational piece.”

He said it’s what you build onto the ieMR and what you do with the data it collects that determines just how much can be achieved, with the revolutionary possibilities advancing healthcare at rapid pace.

It is this thinking that is the motivation behind Queensland Health’s eHealth Expo, which will bring together the greatest brains in the field and showcase vanguard tech on 7 June.

For Ashby, the eHealth Expo will drive innovation, with clinicians, physicians, consumers, care providers, IT experts, vendors, start-ups and researchers sharing knowledge about the cutting-edge potential of data analytics, precision medicine, machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence, genomics, population health and more.

“One of the benefits of getting people with different roles and professional skill sets and knowledge and experience and age and gender into one place is that quite often you will get innovation out of that.”

It will also promote the collaboration that Ashby believes can overcome the boundaries of a federated collection of health systems.

“The good thing about that for Australia is that we can share. We can share the work now,” he said.

“Things like advanced analytics, it would be conceivable for, say, soon the Princess Alexandra Hospital to work with the Austin Hospital and Eastern Health in Victoria and Westmead on some particular problem and work collaboratively to come up with answers. So it’s not just one hospital or even one state jurisdiction that’s taking the weight of the work, the work can be shared around as we have more digital hospitals in Australia.

“That sort of community of interest does exist in places overseas and works well so we see a lot of opportunity with that.”

He cites standardised cancer care as a way to lift quality and lower expense.

But before the blue sky healthcare approaches can be realised, the foundational structure needs to be in place, which brings Ashby back to ieMRs.

“We're very much looking forward to some of the other big health services around Australia going fully digital so we can work in that domain with them, share the work around, combine the clinical intellect that we have in Australia which punches way above its weight internationally and we just see that as the way forward.”

Australia has the opportunity to interlink its health services as a result of its relatively streamlined collection of vendors, particularly through the predominance of Cerner in the public system on the east coast and GP software providers such as MedicalDirector.

“We do have a fairly dominant vendor in the hospital ieMR space, and then we have two or three dominant vendors in GP desktop solutions, and we have My Health Records, and we have basically a couple of dominant vendors around mobile phones.

“We're not in the situation of the United States with literally hundreds of different systems and hundreds of different vendors. We're in a good position where even as integration tools get more sophisticated the job is not as daunting as it is in many overseas jurisdictions. We have a pretty good opportunity to tie all this stuff together very cost effectively.

“And that will allow much greater gains in population health and precision medicine, higher-reliability heathcare and so on. It's a very exciting time to be around healthcare during this digital transformation where we are well on the journey now in this country.

Beyond healthcare systems, Ashby also points to the recent announcements at HIMSS18 of Cerner’s collaborations with Apple and SalesForce that will likely lead to health records breaking out of siloed data repositories and into the hands of consumers via their mobile phones.

As Ashby said, it is a “very, very exciting” time to be in healthcare.

Queensland Health’s eHealth Expo call for speaker submissions closes on 21 March 2018.

HIMSS is the parent company of Healthcare IT News Australia.

 

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