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CIOs brainstorm to help professionals

A group of Australians look at using technology to improve the provision of care. By Aileen Macalintal.

Interactive video games and smart phones could be used to help improve the health of rural Australians, according to CIOs.

A series of forums, the CIO Solution Roundtable, is underway among chief information officers nationwide, with the first forum brainstorming ways to modernise healthcare among mostly ageing rural Australians and change the way patients participate in their own care.

The first forum tackled how complex industries can address the many problems of rural healthcare and work on solutions together. Games and smart phones are some ideas that came up.

"If we improve the communications between companies that develop, market and integrate healthcare technology, then this will drive innovation in the industry and deliver better solutions," said roundtable convenor Dr Brendan Lovelock, the health industry practice lead at Cisco Australia.

Since a number of elements interplay to improve the connectivity between those involved in healthcare delivery, Lovelock said the forum did not just focus on one area of technology.

"It is hoped that by bringing these industry players together with the more traditional members of the healthcare ICT industry, we will develop more innovative ways of addressing the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers and their patients," he said.

The potential of interactive media and game development industries will be tapped to deliver "a more engaging and purposeful experience for the user", Lovelock said.

This meant exploring opportunities to better engage healthcare professionals and patients through smart phones and tablets, as well as personal measurement technologies to make information easily accessible.

Lovelock said he didn't see a problem with people adapting to technology. "The essence of good technology is to create a user-appropriate experience so that the technology element disappears.

"Creating devices which are sympathetic to the physical challenges confronting many elderly patients is one aspect but creating software applications which have features appropriate to their healthcare needs is another important requirement.

"If you make technology relevant to elderly patients and support them appropriately, then they will use it.

"Also, the user of this technology is often not the elderly person, but the carers and healthcare providers who support those patients," he said.

Lovelock said the important issues for those who will provide efficient care are: Does this technology really assist in managing my health, or the health of those I care for? Does the technology fit in with my lifestyle or the workflow I use when caring for others? Is this technology engaging? Is it not only simple to use but also enjoyable?

Lovelock outlined what he believed to be the most interesting ideas at the forum.

"The group decided that to make a difference in the Grampians (a remote area in western Victoria) in the short- to medium-term, we should focus on improving the connectivity between acute care, primary care (GPs), allied healthcare providers and the patient.

"We would look to reconvene a broad group including those members of the games and interactive media industries, plus the device development industries, to look at gaps in connectivity."
Another goal was to build an evidence-based approach that could address problems in hospital overcrowding. If more patients were well-connected to relevant information and with their care providers, overcrowding in emergency rooms might be avoided. "A number of diseases that drive emergency department overcrowding were discussed and it was decided that we needed to gather together a clinical subgroup of the roundtable," Lovelock said.

Some of the diseases that cause overcrowding are coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"Information technology provides the capability for clinicians and patients to access and share information independent of where they are located, so that specialist care can be delivered in even the most remote, rural environment and patients can access information."

Lovelock said rural health care faced multiple challenges, including an increase in chronic disease due to an ageing population, a shortage of skilled workers, and a healthcare process challenged by long distance.

"Addressing these issues requires the innovative and efficient use of our precious rural health care resources and the better coordination of care delivery in the country."

With healthcare information technology, new models will be developed to overcome many barriers, he said.

Lovelock said IT would put workers and patients in better control of chronic conditions. "In addition, it allows better connectedness between care providers allowing improved coordination of the care process and enabling the right care resources to be delivered when and where required."

The CIO Solution Roundtable grew from the Partnering for Healthcare Innovation conference last year in conjunction with the Medical Software Industry Association.

Lovelock said "the opportunity is to drive innovation by bringing together the smartest people from both large and small companies in the industry to share their knowledge and catalyse innovation in healthcare solution design."

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