Bruce Linaker is the acting CIO of Queensland Health and the acting CEO of eHealth Queensland, a unit created to provide technology solutions across Queensland Health.

With a staff of some 1,500 people and an operational budget of $440 million, he’s in charge of delivering more than $1 billion of ICT enabling programs and projects for Queensland Health. And, he says, Queensland’s focus on digital health is putting it ahead of the rest of Australia.

“We’re working on some the biggest and some of the most exciting projects, certainly in Brisbane and possibly even in Australia. We’re leading on a number of these initiatives where we are the envy of some of our southern states in terms of how rapidly we’re adopting and incorporating these new technologies.”

He says some of the innovations and some of the technology  becoming available will be transformational.

The website of Queensland Health lists a number of these digital health initiatives.

The integrated electronic medical record (ieMR) “replaces paper-based clinical charts, the integrated electronic Medical Record (ieMR) allows healthcare professionals to simultaneously access and update patient information.” Its rollout across the state’s health system is a major component of the work of eHealth Queensland.

The Viewer “collates data from multiple Queensland Health systems, enabling healthcare professionals, including general practitioners, to access patients' information quickly.”

Telehealth “transforms the way Queensland Health cares for rural and remote patients, enabling them to attend appointments close to home.” In a region where many people live and work remote from major centres with sophisticated healthcare facilities, telehealth equipment can do much to improve patient access to healthcare and reduce travel and inconvenience for patients, families, carers and health professionals.

Mobile workforce: “Makes it easier for Queensland Health staff to work on the move - from patient to patient; office to office; meeting to meeting; and at home.”

The Viewer and a number of other specific digital projects developed by Queensland Health were on display at its eHealth Expo in Brisbane earlier this month.

The viewer — described by one clinician as “the single most useful piece of software we use in Queensland Health” —provides information from more than 15 applications through a single desktop or mobile device. It’s used by hospital staff, other service providers such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and by GPs.

In his opening address to the eHealth Expo, Michael Walsh, the director general of Queensland Health said Viewer made Queensland is the only state in Australia that provides full access to general practitioners to view the same clinical information that a clinician in a hospital is viewing.

“We have legislated that in and it provides a great continuity of care and support to our transition of care arrangements both in the hospital and out of hospital,” he said.

Follow Me Desktop is a virtual operating system that enables employees to move from device to device without losing session details. It’s used by more than 6500 clinical staff throughout Queensland.

Smart Referrals is a digital referrals capability designed to streamline management of referrals to and within Queensland public hospitals.

It allows those involved in patient care, including GPs to better manage the patient journey, improve patient safety and reduce specialist outpatient waiting times. GPs can create and submit electronic referrals from existing practice software.

Beyond these specific projects, eHealth Queensland is looking more generally at how technology can be used to enhance the delivery of health services in the state. It has more than 100 ongoing ICT-related projects, and Linaker says governance is key.

Good governance

“I don’t want to overlay lots of burocracy on initiatives that don’t need it, but with good governance we know we’re doing the right things at the right time … and if we see any tell-tale of projects that maybe are drifting away from where they should be, we detect that early, we can remediate quickly, and get them back onto track.”

He says patients are at the centre of all these initiatives. “Depending on the type of project we often work with patient advocate groups who help guide us and inform us in terms of; are we focussing on the right things, are we giving the right level of attention to what we’re doing?

“We try and involve patients in out testing where is appropriate to make sure that we are hitting the mark; as well as clinicians of course.”

eHealth Queensland is far from being Queensland’s only IT related health project. It’s part of the Healthcare Innovation and Transformation Excellence Collaboration (HITEC), formed in 2017 with the aim of exploit digital technology to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care.

The pursuit of excellence

HITEC’s other major partners are Hospital and Health Services (HHS) — which runs the state’s hospitals — and are Clinical Excellence Queensland, which has a remit to partner with HHS, clinicians and consumers “to drive measurable improvements in patient care through the continual pursuit of excellence.”

According to HITEC’s website it was formed in response to clinicians’ desire to provide leadership and direction into the transformative changes resulting from the introduction of digital  technology into healthcare, particularly the ieMR.

The website stresses the importance of the clinical workforce being engaged in this transformation and pledges: “All HITEC activities will retain clinician engagement, consultation and advocacy as guiding principles.”

Leadership for digital transformation

In addition to these bodies there is the Digital Healthcare Improvement Network (DHIN) that provides clinical leadership and direction to clinical teams undergoing digital transformation, and the Healthcare Improvement Unit (HIU) within Clinical Excellence Queensland that aims to improve access to healthcare by evaluating and funding new treatments and technologies for possible statewide implementation

One of the keynote speakers at eHealth Expo, professor Andrew Morris, director of Health Data Research UK, summed up Queensland’s digital health initiatives, saying: “What I have seen today in Queensland tells me you’ve got a very digitally mature environment in your health services, but most importantly you’ve got talent, which is going to deliver outstanding innovation, which will benefit patients.”

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