Consumer pressure is set to transform tech uptake in general practice, with new research claiming patients are increasingly demanding access to their medical records and SMS alerts to cut down on the time they spend in doctors’ waiting rooms.

But the AMA has said technologies are expensive to implement and doctors continue to have privacy and cybersecurity concerns about data sharing.

Tech-savvy patients are increasingly demanding technologies that provide improved choice and control, but there is a “clear divide” between expectations and availability, according to the GP Insights Report by the Commonwealth Bank.

Almost 30 per cent of patients are dissatisfied with being unable to communicate directly with GPs, while 24 per cent per cent are unhappy with wait times.

The vast majority of those surveyed said they want doctors to improve their digital communications, with 92 per cent calling for notifications of appointment delays, 89 per cent expecting to book and manage appointments online, and 86 per cent preferring to access medical records and test results online.

The nationwide study claimed that building business and customer loyalty will depend on the integration of digital tools in line with consumer demand.

It found that 41 per cent of patients are using health and fitness wearables and apps but only 22 per cent share the data with their GP. Practices are reluctant to recommend the technology, according to the report, with 41 per cent concerned the information is not trustworthy or accurate. Close to 40 per cent of practices are also worried about the security of the personal data collected.

“With patients now accustomed to a very high quality of care, we are seeing other factors such as technology and digital communications playing a bigger role in shaping what Australians expect from their GPs,” National Head of Healthcare for the Commonwealth Bank Cameron Ziebell said.

The research found 85 per cent of practices are set to increase their investment in technological capabilities over the next two years, including notifications of appointment delays, digital check-in services and remote monitoring of patient health.

Almost 60 per cent said they currently provide access to patient information through the Federal Government’s online My Health Record, with another 32 per cent planning to do so in the next two years, bringing the anticipated use of the national health data repository up to 90 per cent. By the end of 2018 every Australian will have a MHR unless they take steps to opt out during a yet to be announced three-month window.

“We are seeing a focus on GPs getting the basics right, which is often around ensuring that patients have access to convenient online appointment booking and reminders. Despite many GPs looking to adopt new technology solutions in areas such as giving patients access to medical records or direct communications channels, current adoption levels remain very low,” Ziebell said. 

Most practices said technology will increase their ability to collaborate with other medical professionals (92 per cent), improve quality of care for patients (93 per cent) and improve care for patients with chronic conditions (91 per cent).

“To achieve growth in a highly competitive environment, GPs will need to further embrace technology-led improvements to their interactions with patients as this is set to be the new battleground for attracting new patients or fostering loyalty.”

GP and Australian Medical Association Vice President Dr Tony Bartone told ABC Radio today that the technology is not cheap.

“It's part of the discussion to understand that also the size of the medical software market isn't all that great, so innovation takes time, and the cost of that innovation isn't as competitive as in other sectors of the economy. So all those things build together to make it a coming technology, a coming innovation, but it comes at a cost and it will take a bit of time to implement fully across the practice framework.”

He claimed doctors are absorbing the cost of the digital transformation of the sector, with the Medicare levy having remained static for five years.

But change is occurring, with 85 per cent of practices planning to increase investment in technology in the next two years, according to the report.

Bartone said doctors also have privacy and cybersecurity concerns about sharing medical records, particularly with patients.

“In terms of the online appointments, that's routinely offered in a significant number of practices as we speak right now. But the problem with sharing data is the secure framework doesn't allow for that interchange of data at the current time.

“So firewalls and privacy concerns are really quite difficult and quite stringent. And that's where we run into problems when it comes to sharing data online, and so you need to understand that a message done by secure messaging pathway, it's going to be very problematic.

“Those solutions at this stage are really only essential between practices and other large health care providers, and in terms of for the general public it's still a decent way off.”

He said technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and while innovations can provide genuine benefits to patient care, doctors can be the last to know, with some technology providers communicating with consumers more effectively than the clinicians who can make good use of the data.

“Every day we've got a new app, we've got a new device, a new technology that's looking at one piece of biorhythm or biomarker that's very essential, very useful, in terms of the management of the patient's condition.

“That's part of the education, the health literacy, the empowerment, the understanding of the whole market. Some of these innovations don't even make it to my desk before they've already hit the market. So there's a time lag just because of the size of the practice network, and the size of the number of doctors in our population, and it's still very much an industry that's in its infancy in terms of marketing and distribution and getting their message across.”

The report found that benefits to the sector, including in aged care and rural and remote regions, will be achieved through digital health including sensors to monitor patient health, AI and machine learning, predictive data analytics, telehealth, information sharing via cloud technology, and secure communications platforms.

 

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