The National E-Health Strategy (2008) National E-Health and Information Principal Committee, National E-Health Strategy, September 2008 identifies both current and potential future eHealth applications. Current uses span practice management tools, information sharing and sources, and service delivery tools such as chronic disease support and telehealth. Intended future uses would expand the use of telemedicine into video-conferencing, expand remote care management with remote health monitoring and feedback on behaviour, and better support clinical decisions, electronic health records, and public health intelligence. Importantly, these future uses would share information through reliable, connected eHealth platforms.
EXHIBIT 1 – Allied health computer usage, all professions
Allied health practitioners’ most common uses of computers are those that drive practice efficiency, and those for which mature solutions exist, typically practice administration, professional reference materials and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) support: see Exhibit 1. In particular, appointment scheduling and financial packages are ubiquitous in their design and applicability across allied health, and have a clear efficiency and financial justification. Specific eHealth applications in use include viewing and recording patient information (40%, 37% respectively of respondents are currently using), sharing patient information and event summaries with other health professionals (22%, 27%), and viewing diagnostic imaging (23%). Currently, 70% of practitioners also store some form of patient information electronically. However, only 14% rely solely on computers and our vendor and practitioner interviews suggest this is mostly for patient administrative details, rather than their clinical records.
The leading adopters of eHealth are those allied health sectors that can use existing technology and applications to meet their professional needs. Audiologists and radiographers are the sectors that most feel expected to use computers in their daily work (95%, 84%). They are also the sectors that use computers most for practice and research purposes (74%, 73%), while speech pathologists and social workers are using them least (44%, 42%). Leading uses beyond research and practice administration include radiographers viewing patient information and imaging, audiologists using clinical reference tools and showing patients health information, optometrists seeking specialist review, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers facilitating communication between patients and other healthcare professionals.
The eHealth applications most sought-after by allied health practitioners include sending and receiving patient referrals (50% of survey respondents don’t use, but would like) and sharing health records with other practitioners (49%). In both cases, a common system is required for communication between health professionals. Many allied health practitioners are unable to overcome the coordination requirements of implementing electronic referrals and record-sharing, given both the number and diversity of stakeholders within a patient management ecosystem, and the central role of GPs to patient management. Better communication with patients (sharing health records 38%, showing health-related information 37% and direct communication before or after consultations 35%) is also a prominent desire.
Telehealth use is currently low (13% of respondents), with the dominant use being collaboration with other practitioners. A further 40% of respondents expect they will be using telehealth services within 3 years. Their dominant interests are not patient-facing however, with the three leading applications being training (63% very interested), consulting with other practitioners (47%) and supervising (46%).
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