Digitisation of patient health records: first do no harm

There is a lot of resistance in organisations considering integration of informatics into their systems; whether it is electronic health record management systems, telehealth or medical devices. Resistance takes the form of red tape and budgetary restraints but more prevalent is the attitude that digitisation of the healthcare industry will bring more harm than good.

Young clinicians are driving reform. They are noted disruptors and innovators, and want change to happen in the health tech space. They see a lot of resistance to change as a basis of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of risk, fear of failure. As one Health Informatics Conference (HIC) 2015 delegate pointed out, to err is human — but for a machine to make a mistake is unacceptable.

When it comes to setting standards for e-safety and privacy regulations in healthcare settings, it is important to consider the risks involved in setting up an integrated health IT system.

But what are the risks of doing nothing?
Are we going to continue resisting change because we have always used a system with paper files? Because we are scared of job losses? Because we don’t understand the new technology?

What about the positives? What about instant access across the whole hospital (or health network) to a patient’s entire health history, without a doubt as to medication they have been prescribed? Or new jobs emerging from the health tech market? And just as we would trust another specialist from outside our own medical field, why not trust a software specialist?

Security is a concern, and rightly so. Young clinicians take their approach to client privacy as seriously as their older counterparts. Just as healthcare workers should not be discussing patients’ conditions in public or leaving files around for others to see, neither should emails with test results be copied to dozens of unneccesary parties, or social media be full of sensitive information. Yes, we may be dealing with internet security these days but it is the same principle as it has always been: first do no harm.

A passionate HIC 2015 panellist noted that these innovators are happy to share personal information on the internet but have different standards for patient security and privacy. They do not want to be discounted as having no regard for privacy or safety simply because they want to bring improvements to a struggling system.

Australia is lagging in both the consumer uptake of digitised health records, and in clinicians’ willingness to use and train in the systems. Our concerns about our government’s ability to handle our citizen’s data is not out of place given recent fails with the 2016 Census and Centrelink debt collections.

Perhaps we need to take a leaf out of the UK’s book and establish an independent body similar to the Wellcome Trust’s Understanding Patient Data portal.

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Funded by the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health, Public Health England and the Economic and Social Research Council; however, reportedly run ‘independently’ of funders by a London team at the Wellcome Trust.