The Health Informatics Conference in Sydney this week showcased great progress in one of the most essential aspects of health IT, the Electronic Health Record. Accessibility to EHR data is improving care decisions and outcomes across primary and secondary care.

It is clear that interoperability and information sharing remain fundamental in building a connected health system, as discussed by Dr David Hay, Product Strategist at Orion Health, who spoke on two occasions about the role of FHIR. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) aims to speed application development and interoperability, plus boost information sharing in healthcare, especially on mobile platforms. Healthcare requires clinical data to be expressed in a structured and coded format, and shared in a seamless, secure and near real-time manner.

It was announced that the states will be harmonising information from children’s paper health records which currently hold different information, creating inconsistencies across the health system. The digital initiative will be set up to be part of an electronic health record in the future and is an important step towards digitising the health sector.

There was relevant debate around security and privacy of the data included in electronic health records. The Australian government’s recent decision for an opt-out system reflects the importance of health information sharing across healthcare providers in a safe and secure way. If the industry is to progress towards digitisation and a more connected system, it must be underpinned by interoperability and privacy before developments in data-driven health can thrive.

The emergence of big data and machine learning in healthcare brings significant potential to a field that is full of data, but also comes with huge challenges. The journey to a connected, digital health system is firstly about making data available, but ultimately meaningful for clinicians and patients, all while ensuring this data remains secure. The potential being unlocked on that journey was highlighted by the Precision Driven Health partnership, which featured in four presentations.

One application of such technologies for meaningful clinical use was demonstrated by Michael Hosking, Clinical Product Specialist at Orion Health. He presented the application of natural language processing and machine learning to improve existing search interfaces for more meaningful clinical search interfaces within a patient’s record. This is supported by clinical terminology systems which allow clinicians to use familiar representations of clinical terms. This application can result in time saving, higher clinical confidence and improved patient safety for clinical decision making.

While the future of a digitised, connected healthcare system is exciting, the most effective path to take is through meaningful, incremental steps. Because of the health industry’s complexity, technology advances and development has been slow with a lot of health information stored in silos and disparate systems that don’t talk to each other. Disconnected systems with different aspects of patient information create an incomplete view of a patient and make it difficult to analyse in a holistic and personalised manner.

Incremental steps are adding layers of value to organisations and are the key to enabling data-driven decisions to be made in healthcare. Aligning primary, secondary and community care providers and allowing information sharing will help to break down the barriers of a fragmented health system. Making additional data available that builds on the clinician’s view of the patient will help the health system move towards a connected, personalised approach to healthcare. 

To read more about the journey to a more connected health system, read my article recently published in APAC CIO Outlook here.