Innovating Technology Infrastructure to Improve the Healthcare Experience

Industry: Healthcare

Location: Australia


Project

FST Media and NTT Communications ICT Solutions (NTT ICT) hosted an exclusive panel discussion in Melbourne with leaders from Victoria’s healthcare organisations to discuss IT infrastructure strategies to reduce operational complexities and deliver better customer experience.

Challenges

  • Outmoded paper-based system
  • The need for better and more integrated patient information through technology-based innovation.
  • Security and potential data loss and breaches

Solutions we can help with

  • Hardware procurement
  • IT Infrastructure services
  • Project management
  • Network services

Benefits

  • Reduce administration burden 
  • Reduce costs
  • Better sharing of information and quicker access and log-ins
  • Data to help enable staff to manage individual patients
  • Manage the availability of hospital beds

Healthcare systems globally are being challenged  by increasing  demands from consumers suffering complex and sometimes chronic health conditions. This is being driven by a combination of factors including an ageing population, financial constraints and consumer demand for greater access to information.

Though it is challenging, one of the great  opportunities  for healthcare lies in technology.  Innovative technology infrastructure  can  be  used  to   improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare systems and services, making life easier for healthcare professionals – with the result being an improved healthcare experience for patients. Australian healthcare organisations are rising to this challenge.

FST Media and NTT Communications ICT Solutions (NTT ICT) hosted an exclusive panel discussion in Melbourne with leaders from Victoria’s healthcare organisations to discuss IT infrastructure strategies to reduce operational complexities and deliver better customer experience.

Panellists highlighted the need to solve clinical and business problems, such as outmoded paper-based systems and the need for better and more integrated patient information through technology-based innovation. Several organisations have already started on this digital  pathway but face significant operational and implementation challenges.

The Southwest Alliance of Rural Health (SWARH) is on their way, using technology to both speed up and expand access by clinicians to crucial information. According to Katharina Redford, SWARH’s Director of Operations, they are working to enable clinicians to access the information they need whenever they need it. SWARH utilises biometrics to log clinicians into and out of its systems in real time, and have also deployed a unified clinical system across 13 hospitals.

Tony Goad, Group Executive Director, Finance & Support Services, Mercy Health, emphasised the need to have adequate and appropriate technology before applications can perform. “We have spent the last two years ensuring that the technology works,” said Goad, adding that Mercy Health is in the early stages of deploying both clinical and business applications. What helped was putting in place a strategic ICT roadmap for their organisation to ensure the technology foundation was in place to support the IT environment and use of applications.

 “What helped was putting in place a strategic ICT roadmap for their organisation to ensure the technology foundation was in place to support the IT environment and use of applications.”

- Tony Goad, Group Executive Director, Finance and Support Services, Mercy Health

Goad described Mercy Health’s three ongoing ICT projects – replacing its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and back-office capabilities; changing the front- end of its aged care services; and working on a study to determine what clinicians really need to use Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) to improve patient outcomes. Goad considers this “a critical project”. 

...enable clinicians to access the information they need whenever they need it. SWARH utilises biometrics to log clinicians into and out of its systems in real time, and have also deployed a unified clinical system across 13 hospitals.

 - Katharina Redford, Director of Operations, South West Alliance of Rural Health

 


Path to paperless

Panellists highlighted healthcare organisations’ transition towards electronic medical  records  but  pointed  out   that the move is incomplete for some. Many organisations are right now in a hybrid stage that combines electronic records with paper records.

Professor James Angus, the Chair of the Health Data and Information Management Advisory Committee and  Senior Advisor to the Ministerial Health Innovation and Reform Council, pointed out huge risks in not instituting electronic records. “At risk of course is patient safety if the coordination of all the clinical activity is not readily available and connected,” he explained. An integrated IT solution between hospitals, the university and  research  scientists  is “a wonderful opportunity”  for  clinical care, research and training to “flourish seamlessly” with the right governance, IT solution and partnership.

Gayle Smith, Executive Director of Quality, Planning &  Innovation, Eastern Health, said that the Box Hill hospital redevelopment project includes implementation of an electronic medical record system and that work is underway to deliver on this element of the project. This project will enable a range of information to be available in a timely way to support management of patients  and  monitoring of performance at an organisational level. “This knowledge management system will use data to help with critical tasks like enabling staff to manage individual patients, manage the availability of hospital beds, and review quality performance measures on a monthly basis” said Smith.

Jason  Whakaari,  Executive  Director ICT, Capital & Contracts, Western Health, pointed out that lack of funding was a prime impediment. Under the HealthSMART program in Victoria, he reported that not all healthcare services received  funding for electronic medical records, resulting in many healthcare organisations with paper- based systems. There are some organisations that are transitioning from paper to hybrid models – scanning paper templates and using some smart e-forms, but this is often time-consuming and inefficient.

Other Issues, other progresses

Technology advances have  been  shown to help healthcare by simply making organisations as a whole function better. Whakaari used pilot sites to deploy new technology  and  figure  out  how  to   do this with the lowest expenses. They also sought to reduce administration burdens and costs. “By taking that administration burden elsewhere, we can focus more on core technology support functions,” said Whakaari. So the aim here is to make technology work in the most effective and efficient way possible to support healthcare provision.

But the introduction and use of technology needs to be done right. According to Jordan Del-Grande, Director of Information Security, NTT ICT, technology initiatives should begin with the right strategy and governance. “If you do not do that, things will always go awry, and you will be fighting fires instead of managing what you should be focusing on,” said Del-Grande.

Del-Grande said that NTT ICT has secured the ISO 27001 certification, an information security management standard 

designed to ensure that adequate and proportionate security controls are put in place to protect corporate information and data in order to gain customer confidence. NTT ICT is also registering for IRAP certifications which are mandatory for Federal customers.

Del-Grande  also  cited  the   challenge of security and of potential data loss  and data breaches. “On top of our governance framework, we also have to be aware of emerging threats and combat against them,” said Del-Grande. “That brings us back to governance. And there are many pieces to that which can range from cyber threats to even just the process of discarding old printers or other hardware which may have confidential information stored that can be retrieved.”

On top of our governance framework, we also have to be aware of emerging threats and combat against them.”

- Jordan Del-Grande, Directorof Information Security, NTTCommunications

Gayle Smith, as well as Jenny Bowman from Monash Health,  pointed  out  that  it is not enough to just have the technology. People have to know and be supported to use it. Bowman described getting “excited about these applications and implement them without ensuring we have the infrastructure in place to support them. Smith says that you have to make sure that people are not only confident and capable of using an ICT application, but also that “their workflow becomes consistent with the application”. This means changes to work practices and ensuring adequate training is put in place. Smith described that this was incorporated into their commission phase, and even included “daily logs of issues” and a process of “rapid solutions” to address problems as they were identified.

“...it’s not enough to just have the technology. People have to know and be supported to use it.” 
 - Gayle Smith, Executive Director-Quality, Panning and Innovation,Chief Allied Health Officer, HealthData and Information Management Advisory Committee

Bowman also described  a  trial  in Monash Health’s Emergency Department which perfectly illustrates the benefits of technology for healthcare. A new “tap-on, tap-off” system allows clinicians to log on to a PC with a simple swipe of their staff ID card. They are then recognised and logged into every application, with the virtual machine then following them around. They save time without having to log in each time and because all necessary data and applications are available wherever they are in the department. Because the solution is so intuitive and accessing electronic systems is streamlined, clinical staff are recording higher quality data and have more time to deliver care to more patients during their shift.


The future of health innovation

According to Jordan Del-Grande, healthcare organisations are likely to increasingly leverage public cloud services as cloud technology becomes cheaper. The result? Quicker IT systems will mean quicker services, translating to benefits for hospitals and consumers alike. “Even if I look at just last year and the rollout of our infrastructure, things that would take months or weeks now only take hours.”

Del-Grande also predicts for consumers a much higher use of “biometrics” which are technologies that can measure and analyse different aspects of our health. “It will not be foreign for our grandchildren to have some sort of chip or device inserted in their bodies,” he said. Imagine if that technology, communicating with a central health information system, could relay to your team of health professionals when you need to come in for a medical treatment. It’s an interesting world we are heading towards in terms of healthcare.

What James Angus sees  for  the  future is better governance; for example, how health data is gathered, used and secured. “What we have to do in Victoria and other jurisdictions is share and link data,” he said. “We need to establish an authority so all this can go to a one-stop shop where you have proper governance.” With the complexity of IT systems and the real threats to information security, governance is an issue for both now and the future.

Angus also hinted  at  a  greater  amount of activity, both  nationally  and  globally, in genomics: how we are using the genetic mapping and DNA sequencing of sets of genes or complete genomes to understand disease and prevention, and whether someone will have a higher likelihood of poor health. Tying genetics to health care is one of the most exciting intersections between innovation and biotechnology.

New Models

Three of our panellists paint a combined picture of the future where information and technology help address current challenges while helping service a new model for healthcare. This is where information crosses borders and where healthcare is delivered in a variety of settings, not just in the hospital, but as Gayle Smith pointed out, “including in the patient’s home”.

Tony Goad pointed out that the current healthcare delivery models tend to be very hospital-centric and are likely to evolve to include other systems. Without a change of approach, Goad said, “the current balance of  demand  versus  supply  in  health will bring our public health system to its knees in the next 20 years.”

So, what would a change in approach mean? Katharina Redford’s vision is: “One central database so no matter where you seek care… your information is known and shared among clinicians.” Jason Whakaari has a similar idea. According to him, this means going beyond information being accessible only within one’s own organisational network, to a health system that shares information across organisation and state boundaries.

“If we can achieve that in the next 15 to 20 years, that will be a great result,” said Whakaari. With information available so much more effectively and efficiently, it will help facilitate this new model of care to be delivered wherever it is needed.

With information available so much more effectively and efficiently, it will help facilitate this new model of care to be delivered wherever it is needed.”

- Jason Whakaari, Executive Director, Capital & Contracts, Western Health

What it comes down to in the end though, is not the technology itself nor the systems for sharing information; it is how technology is used to improve healthcare for consumers, who Smith describes as being much “more informed” with “higher expectations”, while Redford calls these patients “the end-game”. 

Smith calls on health service providers to “deliver on the strategic capability of information technology to improve service delivery” while Redford emphasises the need to make sure that both healthcare providers and patients alike have a positive experience with digital health. “We have to remember that we are people, delivering care to people,” she said. Historically, when asked to participate in digital health initiatives, Redford says people would “run for the hills”. For success now and in the future, for all stakeholders in healthcare systems, it’s all “about making sure that digital experience is not negative”.

To try to summarise this exciting discussion, it looks like ICT with proper planning, governance and security can support a framework and the applications that will make healthcare services more efficient – for example, through electronic records, better  sharing  of  information and quicker access and log-ins – with the winners in the end being everyone involved, but primarily the health consumer. So, whatever challenges lie ahead, it looks like the end results will be well worth it.

 

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