This week the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, proposed online medical consultations for patients in remote areas. But there is a lack of communication between medical personnel in the Australian capital city, Canberra, only a few kilometres (or in some cases tens of metres) apart. Technologies such as SMS and the web can be used in the city as well as the regions.
Recently my GP referred me for examination be a specialist. To do this the GP typed a letter on their computer, pressed some buttons to attach my medical history, printed it out, put it in an envelope and handed it to me. I then carried this letter to the specialist's office, where their staff typed the details back into another computer system. The specialist asked me about treatment which I received at Canberra Hospital, which is located across the road from their office, on the same medical campus. Apparently they could not get the records from the hospital computer and so had to ask me my recollections. This all took a considerable amount of time (time which judging by the specialist's frantic manner was not something they had a lot of).
The specialist then dictated a letter (by speaking into a audio recorder) to be sent to the hospital across the road requesting further tests. Presumably the hospital staff then had to transcribe the details, including my interpretation of their previous diagnosis, back into the hospital's computer system.
Canberra Hospital was too busy to conduct the tests, so this was passed on to Calvary Hospital, on the other side of Canberra. I assumed that the two public hospitals in Canberra, both funded by the same government, would have access to the same patient database, but apparently this is not the case. I was required to fill in another set of paper forms and tell another group of medical personnel my recollections of what treatment I had received and what diagnosis had been made. Also they did not have the letter from my GP, so I had to provide my medical history, as best I could remember it.
As with previous treatment in Canberra Hospital, the staff of Calvary Hospital appear well trained and dedicated to their work. But they seem to be wasting much of their valuable time trying to obtain and check information which should be available instantly from a properly designed medical information system.
While a fully integrated e-health system would be desirable, this could take five to ten years to build. Perhaps something as simple as authorised staff being able to access the other hospital's records using a secure web interface would be sufficient. This could to save Canberra taxpayers millions of dollars each year. It might also save some lives.