In April, Which-50 ran a series of articles critical of the Federal government’s implementation of My Health Record. The system is, however, not without its defenders. One such is Dr Steve Hambleton, a GP and Independent Clinical Advisor to the Digital Health Agency. This is his response.

My patients benefit from the information that I and their other healthcare providers upload to, and view in, My Health Record.

Why? When healthcare providers upload their patients’ information, they save the patient from having to remember and repeat their medical history and carry around hard copies of medical documents. In my patient health summaries, I include the results of my patients significant investigations, like echocardiograms and endoscopy findings.

I want my patients’ other healthcare providers, such as hospitals and specialists, to have rapid access to relevant information when they are caring for them. And I want my patients to be able to access their medical history if they can’t contact me. As a part time GP, that is important.

Uptodate information can also prevent unnecessary duplication of diagnostic imaging and pathology testing. More and more public and private providers are sharing their results with My Health Record, making it a reliable source of key information. With the latest specialist software, test results in My Health Record will be displayed alongside locally held test results — I can’t wait for that to flow to general practice.

I mostly use the medications view to find medication not remembered by my patients, which saves me a lot of time — time I can spend focusing on the patient. In the past, it was a call to the specialist rooms or to their pharmacy.

Immunisation details are now required to be uploaded to the Australian Immunisation Register by all providers and can be viewed quickly through My Health Record to support ourresponse to the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients can also check their own record to see when their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is due.

How people choose to share their health information, and who they share it with, should always be in their control. Better healthcare should never come at the cost of security or privacy. My Health Record system is protected by legislation and is much safer than healthcare providers emailing documents or faxing personal medical information.

My Health Record also proves its worth in times of real need.

The Senior Medical Officer at Wirraka Maya Health Service in Port Hedland, WA, Dr Yolande Knight, relies on My Health Record to keep updated on patient pathology, imaging, medication, dispensing and history records.

The Health Service finds it helpful because a lot of patients move from one region to another, so it can be difficult to get their complete files. They can see what other doctors have requested and performed, overcoming the delays waiting for records requested from other practices and providers. Equally, they can upload and share what they have done, so when the patient attends elsewhere, their record is current and available to other practitioners.

In the recent bushfires and floods, patients with scripts uploaded to their My Health Record were able to have their life-saving prescriptions dispensed — even when they couldn’t get home to get their paper scripts or contact their GP for a new script.

Patients who are rushed to hospital emergency departments are very unlikely to be carrying their medical records that could assist treating staff with necessary information for quick decision making. When patients have information about pre-existing conditions, medications and allergies uploaded to their My Health Record, treating staff can use this information to make faster,better informed decisions. When I was in emergency as a patient, I had trouble describing my problem, let alone my history.

Dr Steve Hambleton
Dr Steve Hambleton, General Practitioner, Independent Clinical Advisor to the Digital Health Agency, and Board Member, Digital Health CRC

It’s your health and it’s in your hands. So, look at your own and your loved ones’ records (with their permission) and if they are missing documents, ask your healthcare providers to update information so you and they don’t get caught out in future. You can also become a nominated representative for a loved one.

My Health Record use

Consumers and healthcare providers are using the My Health Record in increasing numbers and with increasing regularity. There has been an increase of 120,000 My Health Records since July 2020.  

The real measure of success, though, is the number of documents uploaded and viewed by someone else. In the last year, GPs alone have viewed over 650,000 documents uploaded by others — using this information to support their role in their patients’ healthcare.

Public hospital use continues to increase, viewing nearly 580,000 documents uploaded by someone else and uploading nearly 550,000 documents that were viewed by some else in the last year. This, along with nearly 3.5 million medicine documents and more than 3.2 million discharge summaries viewed among the 35 million documents uploaded since March 2020, clearly demonstrates the benefit of My Health Record.

One of the most popular views by consumers is pathology reports. Blood Test Results Explained — Lab Tests Online AU can really help consumers interpret these reports. There are now more than 96 million pathology reports to view — an increase in March this year alone of five million.

My Health Record upgrade

As recently announced by the Federal government, the Australian Digital Health Agency has commenced a major program of work to undertake activities to modernise the national digital health infrastructure to better connect Australia’s healthcare system and deliver significant improvements in the quality and efficiency of healthcare. 

The program has been developed with feedback from stakeholders to consider what a digital health ecosystem could be over a ten-year horizon. It supports Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy and the connections between state and territory government services.

It will enable improved use of open APIs and cleaner integration with Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR). 

We have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, but there are still opportunities for improvement. Technology is helping more Australians access safer, better quality healthcare. Today, digital health has become a vital part of a modern, accessible healthcare system designed to meet the needs of all Australians.

Digital health future

The Australian Digital Health Agency is the custodian of the National Digital Health Strategy 2017–2022 and it is time to update it, with a new round of consultations about to begin. The National Digital Health Strategy is about the whole digital health ecosystem, not just the My Health Record.

We need to continue to support a thriving digital health industry working closely with healthcare practitioners, consumers and the research community delivering world-class innovation. Video-based telehealth providers have become national and international businesses.

Research and development are also key priorities for the technology sector, which is focused on responding to the needs of healthcare consumers and the healthcare providers who serve them.

Australian governments are fostering an environment that supports digital health innovation by creating spaces for exchanging ideas, gaining new insights, and demonstrating how digital technology is contributing to the health system, and looking at the innovations that are on the horizon. Through the Digital Health CRC now run by ex-IBM Watson health lead Terry Sweeney, states and territories are also partnering with organisations, and supporting small businesses that are designing products that have high potential for commercialisation.

While most public interest about Australia’s digital health system is on My Health Record, a key focus of the Australian Digital Health Agency’s current work is on three elements of the digital health system that exist beyond My Health Record — electronic prescriptions, secure messaging and interoperability.  

Since the first electronic prescription was generated in May last year, more than seven million have been generated.

Secure messaging ensures the safe, seamless and secure exchange of clinical information between healthcare providers that include referrals, specialist reports, pathology results, radiology results, hospital discharge summaries and allied health consultation reports. 

As secure messaging matures, it will eliminate the need for re-keying or transcribing, integrate more efficiently into clinical software and workflows, provide a single channel for correspondence and enable an audit trail of successful delivery. For new clinical graduates, the only place they should see a fax is in a museum.

Interoperability remains a priority of the National Digital Health Strategy. It highlights the importance of connected health services and calls for the definition of standards that will help healthcare providers and patients make the best health and care decisions.

Better connected healthcare will enable the exchange of high-quality data between healthcare providers and the systems they use. By bringing together all the information about a patient from several sources, it gives the healthcare provider and the patient greater visibility of their health information.

And when it comes to health, accurate information leads to better decisions, which in turn leads to better health outcomes.  

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