Future of Aussie care could rest in the hands of bedside laptops

Future of Aussie care could rest in the hands of bedside laptops

By Rodney Appleyard

Australian hospitals are looking to take an even bigger step into the world of IT care by bringing in wireless laptops to help them assess the status of patients at their bedside.

This follows experiments carried out recently in the United States, such as Florida, where doctors have used the technology to keep track of patient information, such as intravenous administration history; vital statistics, such as blood pressure, heart rate and temperature; and X-ray and lab reports for services ordered for the patient.

The system used in Florida is called Soarian, and it is supplied by Siemens Medical Solutions, which won two Frost & Sullivan awards this month for customer care.

It can keep medical staff up to date with each person's health in the hospital and also bring up prompts to whether a person needs a new prescription or medicine.

Big steps are being taken in Australia to bring the country in line with America's paperless, laptop services.

NSW health is making a big effort to move northern Sydney hospitals into the digital world by the end of this year.

They are piloted a new systems called eDRS (Electronic Discharge Referral System), which uses an interactive database to streamline the flow of information about a patient's treatment and improve the patient's continuity of care from the moment they come to hospital to their recovery and follow up care back in the community.

The new system requires medical staff to use PCs and wireless technology. In a first for an NSW public hospital, HP/Compaq has provided the Health Service with four PC tablets (portable, handheld interfaces) to trial. Using these PC tablets, staff can access the electronic discharge summaries, updating them in real-time and often at the bedside.

It is currently being piloted in the aged care ward at Royal North Shore hospital and will be gradually rolled out in Manly, Mona Vale, Ryde and Hornsby Ku-ring-gai hospitals by the end of the year.

There are many other digital pilot programmes underway in Australia, such as the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Telehealth project, which links too hospitals together via broadband.

Laurie Wilson, the e-health leader of the Telehealth project, explained that although Australia is making huge steps towards using digital technology to create better care in hospitals, there is still a long way to go hospital can integrate all of their systems digitally. "Our Telehealth project links the hospital in Katoomba (Blue Mountains) with a hospital in Nepean (Penrith), 60km away. It allows medical staff in Nepean to work on an operation in Katoomba via video screens and audio facilities. This saves lives and money, because otherwise, the patients would have to be flown or driven by ambulance to the hospital in Nepean.

I think it's a great idea to use laptops by the bedside of patients, as has been done in Florida, but first of all we need all of the different records systems in the hospitals integrated. That's the biggest stumbling block. There are too many disparate systems that need to be linked together. It should be another 10 years until we can really have paperless hospitals and be able to access all of the patient's information on a single piece of software and access it by a laptop."

It seems that NSW Health is leading away with this goal, and the results of their pilot scheme should pave the way for this to be followed throughout the rest of Australia in the future.

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