Imagine living in a world where you are disconnected – you can’t call whoever you want when you want, you can’t just google something in a second to give you an immediate answer. That was the world circa 1996…and while 20 years later life has significantly moved on, the healthcare system is still lagging behind. 

I was pretty surprised (and disappointed) when I went to see a specialist the other day who took paper notes. Admittedly, she sees patients in two different clinics in Auckland, but we all know that’s not a barrier to digitisation. Not only did the doctor take paper notes, but she handwrote me a prescription and filled out a paper blood-test form! Shocking! She also included in her form, tests that I’d only just had done by my G.P. a couple of weeks earlier – but when I mentioned this, she said that she couldn’t easily access my notes so we might as well get them done again. Ridiculous!  

My experience highlighted to me how urgently we need an integrated healthcare system – but how far we still are from that goal. What a waste of time and money (not to mention blood!) duplicate testing is. And this is just one of the inefficiencies that siloed healthcare causes. We need to re-architect our healthcare delivery system to enable the easy and efficient sharing of healthcare information.

Globally, integrated care (known as Population Health Management in some parts of the globe) is the goal of healthcare systems. A key driver for integrated care is the management of burgeoning healthcare costs. Healthcare spending in Australia and New Zealand continues to increase – in Australia, it’s projected to increase to $186.3 billion by 2018, New Zealand’s 2016 healthcare budget sits at $16.1 billion. With both countries facing aging populations and increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, there is an urgent need to halt that escalating cost and make a fundamental shift in our healthcare system. We need to move from siloed systems to patient-centred care across the community – a system where all healthcare providers share information and update one comprehensive cloud-based patient record.

In order to do this, healthcare organisations need to invest in the right IT infrastructure. In New Zealand and Australia, most GPs and specialists use some kind of EMR software – the issue is connecting these systems and integrating them with EMRs held in our DHBs and regional hospitals. In 2013 Michael E. Porter and Thomas H. Lee outlined six critical elements to delivery coordinated care, one of which was to build an enabling information technology platform. 

The digitisation of healthcare records and the technology to connect the dots between siloed providers is critical to transforming, and improving, today’s healthcare system. Just as we now can’t imagine living in the unconnected world of twenty years ago, I’m looking forward to living in the connected world of health we see in the not too distant future.

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