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Embracing e-health for the good of patients

The perception of eHealth as a separate realm of health systems is a misnomer that must be shed if care providers are to leverage the potential of technology for their patients, a national nursing conference has been told.

Speaking at the Australian College of Mental Health Nurses 8th Primary Mental Health Care Conference in Canberra on Friday, the president of the Australasian College of Health Informatics, associate professor Chris Pearce, said approaches to patient care needed to incorporate elements of eHealth, rather than seeing them as an additional measure complementing traditional care models.

Pearce, a Victoria-based GP, said computers had already transformed the traditional consultation model into a three-way interaction. “Computers bring their own level of authority and power into a consultation," he said.

Despite this, he added, too many GPs and other health professionals remained hesitant to embrace technology, in part because they feared they were ceding power to their computers.

Another barrier, he added, was the unwillingness and failure of health professionals to share data that may assist in the care of a patient.

“We need to move beyond the debate about data ownership,” Pearce told delegates. “Patient care is about patient care, and you don’t withhold data that will impact on patient care. If we have that information we should share it, you can’t hold it back … simply because you ‘own it’.

“The data you need to treat a patient is the data you need to share and it should take one click,” he argued.

Pearce also acknowledged the risks and dangers of eHealth, such as the speed at which errors could be compounded through the system. However, he maintained that the difficulties and challenges were there to be understood and tamed, rather than act as reasons not to keep up with technological and societal change.

“These are powerful changes that will continue to happen, regardless of the time we take to consider and discuss how we might respond,” he said.

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