Technological advances are changing the way we live and work.
According to the ATO, 3.8 million Australians lodge their tax return online, 75% of Australia Post parcel deliveries are generated through a digital device, and Healthdirect Australia says 84% of Aussies seek out health information online before heading to a professional.
The health sector is particularly influenced by digital developments. Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy, approved by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council during August 2017, is aimed at evolving health and care to meet our modern needs.
The changes will impact us all. So what’s in it for doctors and patients? Goodbye fax machines, hello augmented reality.
Storage of health data
Chances are you’ve heard of My Health Record. In a nutshell, it is an online summary of your health information which can be accessed by you and your healthcare providers at any time.
According to the Australian Government, every Australian will have a My Health Record by the end of 2018 (unless they choose not to). By 2022 all healthcare providers will be able to contribute to and access digitally stored health information such as reports of your medication, allergies, laboratory tests and chronic conditions. All that information in one place leaves less room for error.
Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy report says benefits include avoidance of hospital admissions, fewer adverse drug events, reduced duplication of tests, better coordination of care for people with chronic and complex conditions, and better informed treatment decisions. You can access your own My Health Record online.
As wellness apps rise in popularity, the likelihood of our personal fitness tracker records being accessed by health professionals also increases. After all, overall health and wellbeing go hand-in-hand.
The loss of sensitive health reports and information isn’t always sinister.
Sometimes humans simply misplace their important documents. It’s easy to do. One in 10 parents lose their child’s health and development book.
Luckily, mobile apps are a great way to replace the paper version. Digitally stored records and referrals reduce dependence on fax machines and postal correspondence. This takes the pressure off patients (no more wondering whether you left that referral in the filing cabinet, junk drawer, or your car), and reduces the administrative burden on practitioners and specialists.
Instant access to a patient’s records can be crucial in an emergency – and ultimately allows a doctor to spend more time with patients, no matter the severity of the situation.
Access to prescriptions
The Australian Government reports that 11% of women miss contraceptive pills due to difficulty accessing GP for repeat.
In future, Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy aims to allow people the ability to request scripts safely and securely online. Patients and their providers can access their prescribed and dispensed medications through My Health Record.
This reduces the margin for error, especially in high-pressure scenarios. It’s a good thing, too. The figures on misinformation are staggering. Annually, approximately 223,000 people are admitted to hospital due to a negative drug event (such as allergic reactions).
Meanwhile, 14% of pathology tests are ordered due to lack of access to a patient’s history. Easy access to previous test results will decrease this. The implementation of digital notifications and alerts about prescriptions and dosage will help patients stay on track of their medication once they leave hospital.
The future of medication management doesn’t involve paper prescriptions. Digital advancements mean people can request medication online. Pharmacists will also have access to electronic prescriptions and dispensing.
Instant diagnosis (via smartphone)
The future can be held in the palm of your hand. Australian company ResApp Health is behind a world-leading technology platform that instantly diagnoses and manages respiratory disease using a smartphone and the sound of a cough or breathing.
A research team, led by Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne at The University of Queensland, pioneered algorithms that accurately characterise the state of patients’ respiratory tracts. “His unique idea was that you could capture signatures in the sound of the cough that contains information to say whether or not you have bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, croup and so forth,” says ResApp Health co-founder and VP, Brian Leedman. “This information can be processed on a standard smartphone.”
The concept received grant funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who saw a practical use for it in the third world where pneumonia is the largest killer of children under the age of five. The high quality microphones in today’s smartphones means platform can be delivered without the need for additional hardware.
Extensive testing is currently underway. Once it gains regulatory approval, the opportunities are endless. Everyone has a smartphone, medical practitioners included. “They don’t have to purchase a piece of hardware to make it work,” Brian says. Originally you were just using a smartphone to make phone calls, send text messages and emails. Now it’s potentially a medical diagnostic tool that ultimately might be in the hands of every consumer in the world.”
A number of doctors are shareholders in the company. “That says a lot in itself. Largely the response from the medical community is fantastic.”
ResApp Health is also developing an at-home screening test for obstructive sleep apnoea. It uses overnight breathing and snoring sounds recorded on a smartphone placed on a bedside table.
The technology has the potential to cut costs. “Consider this for governments. The cost of a diagnosis for pneumonia is expensive. A chest x-ray examination is not cheap. The government (or the medical health insurance company) is picking up that cost. If you’ve got a tool that’s as accurate as that, then you might see a transition towards this alternate technology.”
Brian described the technology as the biggest disruption in healthcare since the invention of the stethoscope. “That’s how I see it. Imagine how disruptive a stethoscope was 200 years ago.”
Think of it a bit like teleconferencing with a medical edge. The International Organisation for Standardisation defines Telehealth as the ‘use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance.’
That basically means the delivery of health services via video using voice, data, images and medical information.
It’s been used succesfully for remote patients who require home monitoring and communication with clinicians in faraway medical centres. It also reduces the burden and stress of travel for people who are ageing and/or unwell, and assists remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It can also be beneficial for after-hour care and training of medical staff.
“The market is for ‘convenience’ – the ability to speak to a doctor without the need to visit your GP or hospital,” says ResApp’s Brian Leedman. It’s a case of technologies working hand-in-hand. “This is where the huge growth in telehealth is coming from and where ResApp makes this possible by being able to provide the doctor with an accurate way of diagnosing respiratory illness without physical interaction with the patient.”
Augmented reality is the projection of digital information onto an existing real-world environment. In the medical world, it is used to feed information to medical professionals and potentially help save lives.
For example, Google Glass (which originated as a brand of smart glasses displaying information in a hands-free format) is used in some hospitals to display a patient’s vital information through the simple swipe of a QR code on the patient’s wall.
US-based company Medsights Tech develops augmented reality software for oncologists, including x-ray views for surgeons – without radiation exposure; and AccuVein produced a device that highlights the veins in a patient’s body (without any contact). As technology advances, so too will innovative tools for the medical trade.
AR is also used to educate medical professionals of the future. JigSpace is an app that provides interactive, 3D explanations of how things work – including our internal organs.