Australia : one of the first countries in the world to provide a Mobile Health record to its entire
In what may be the most comprehensive national effort of its kind, the Australian government has created more than 5.4 million electronic medical records and plans to offer EMRs to the country’s 24 million citizens by the end of 2018.
The records contain information about each individual’s serious illnesses, surgeries, prescribed medications, and family medical histories—information that can be critical to making correct diagnoses.
The ultimate objective of Australia’s “My Health Record” program, begun in 2015 and run by the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), is to speed life-saving treatment to citizens anytime and anywhere they need it.
In a unique move designed to give citizens control of their own health records, each individual can choose which doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers can access his or her records. Approved healthcare professionals can then access those records anywhere with an internet connection using computers or smartphones.
“Australia will be one of the first countries in the world to provide a mobile health record to its entire population,” says ADHA CEO Tim Kelsey. “The project is being followed very closely by many other countries.”
To accelerate the initiative, the Australian government announced in May 2017 that it was moving the program from voluntary opt-in to voluntary opt-out. By the end of 2018, a My Health Record will be created for every Australian, unless an individual chooses not to have one.
Kelsey noted that the ability to share a patient’s comprehensive health information with doctors and other medical care providers already has improved care in Australia. He offered several examples:
In an emergency, paramedics and other responders have immediate access to information about a person’s blood type, history of heart attacks and strokes, allergies to medication, and other factors that can mean the difference between life and death.
In a country where an estimated 2% to 3% of hospital admissions are due to a medication error, having a patient’s record of medications has helped doctors avoid dangerous interactions.
People with serious, long-term illnesses requiring care from different physicians can be sure that each doctor has the results of the latest diagnostic tests. That coordination of care eliminates the need to repeat tests from doctor to doctor.
Electronic records eliminate the need for patients to fill out those annoying paper forms over and over again. General practitioners in Australia spend about 10% of their time searching for paper records and faxing and emailing them to other medical facilities, Kelsey says.
Another unexpected benefit of the project: Once individuals gain control of their own electronic health record, they tend to take better care of themselves.
“They improve their compliance with their doctors’ advice and take their medications on schedule,” Kelsey says. “We don’t see that same level of empowerment in countries where their digital systems are not accessible to patients.”
Expanding My Health Record to help Australians and their clinicians securely share health information is just one of seven ADHA priorities. Another one is an effort to establish standards for sharing data across all public and private healthcare services in the country. Another will equip parents of newborn babies with digital tools to record their children’s immunization histories and developmental milestones.
Kelsey recalls attending a digital medicine conference in Washington, D.C., two years ago, where Joe Biden, then the US vice president, talked about his son Beau’s battle with brain cancer. Biden spoke movingly, he says, about how painful it is for parents not to have easy access to their child’s medical information so they can share in treatment decisions.
“The people working in this area of digital health are doing the most important work of our generation,” Kelsey says. “I believe healthcare can be transformed through technology, and I am incredibly excited and privileged to be involved.”
About the Author
Linda Currey Post covers science and technology advances as a senior writer at Oracle.