Australian healthcare in 2019 is in uncharted territory, facing a host of new challenges and opportunities.
On one hand we have an ageing population and rising numbers of people accessing primary health care services, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). On the other, exciting new technologies offer revolutionary treatments to improve patient outcomes.
However, amidst this change is one key constant: communication. Interpersonal communication has always been at the heart of effective healthcare provision, and while we have different channels for doing it, the concept still holds true.
When we talk about communication here, we’re not referring to a practitioner’s bedside manner. Instead we mean the channels through which medical staff and administrative teams chart a patient’s journey across multiple healthcare touch points.
In this article we’ll look at three important components of effective healthcare communication, and what you can do to ensure they’re running as efficiently as they can.
What is interoperability?
Interoperability is the process by which electronic medical records (EMRs) can be shared across different health service providers to enable a smoother patient experience.
The effective use of data is an area where, in the past, Australian health providers haven’t delivered as well as they could. According to the federal government’s 2017 Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, data collection in Australian healthcare is often scattered and disorganised, and patients often have to act as carriers of information between different facilities.
Why do these problems exist?
One of the problems is that details are collected at a number of disparate touch points including GP visits, prescription collections and from the results of diagnostic tests. Bringing together this data is complicated and time-consuming, meaning the benefits that comprehensive overviews can bring are often forgone.
Adding to this is the fact that public interactions with medical services are changing. People are accessing primary medical services more than they were 10 years ago, says the AIHW, and their demands are different. A report from the The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners shows that mental health issues were the number one reason for GP visits in 2018. For elderly people, longer and healthier lifestyles are colliding with age-related afflictions such as alzheimer’s disease.
Overcoming these trends
To keep up with these trends, you need to optimise your point-of-care efficiency. Ultimately, your medical staff can only be as effective as the patient information provided to them. This means producing records, medication lists and care instructions that are both highly secure (a requirement we will return to in the next section) but also easy to access and retrieve, or update data from.This will result in information that can be shared across providers, saving time and providing patients with care that’s appropriate to their up-to-date health condition.
Cloud-based document management systems allow you to easily convert paper documents into safe but interoperable EMRs. Such systems can also be integrated with printers and scanners, allowing you to print our or digitise hard copies of such information across various points in your facility.
Secure and compliant documentation
We’ve established the benefits of sharing EMRs between staff in your facility, and even between different facilities. However, this flexibility can’t come at the expense of security.
Your processes need to be compliant with The Privacy Act 1988, which protects individuals’ private information (meaning any information or opinions that could or do identify a person). Included in this are particulars of your health such as:
- Prescription information
- Notes made about symptoms that patients describe, or the practitioners observe
- Test results and reports
- Medicare numbers
- Contact and billing details
- Facility admission and discharge records
- Personal information such as sexuality, race and religion
While there’s no doubt that, when used properly, EMRs have the potential to be far more efficient than traditional paper filing administrative systems, it’s important to be aware of the risks associated with online health data storage. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your systems are secure:
- Password-protected access – Only the necessary personnel should have access to patient information, so password protection is a first step in keeping your records secure
- Automatic backups – Theft isn’t the only way you risk losing your patients’ data. Human error, or power outages, could cause issues in your EMR system. With automatic backups you can rest assured that even if the worst happens, you will have a version of these crucial details stored
- Encryption – Encryption involves using an algorithm to translate data into something that appears random and nonsensical. This makes it much harder for hackers to intercept and use the information
- Audit trails – These tools track user activity, allowing you to develop a chronological record of who accessed the data, when and where from. As well as discouraging hackers, this can help ensure that only the people within your organisation who should be retrieving sensitive details are doing so
It’s also imperative that security is retained when printing documentation. Password protected printing is a great way of doing this, whereby your files will only print when you enter a PIN into the printer itself. Again, this is about controlling who has access to, and the power to distribute, patient information.
Clear labelling and identification
An important type of communication in healthcare is identification and asset labelling.
Proper asset identification is key to reducing errors, saving time and therefore improving patients’ experiences and outcomes. As with improving EMR interoperability, this is about improving the efficiency of processes within medical facilities.
For example, consider a specimen container. Collected at a primary care centre, these items are then passed through multiple hands before the results make their way back to patients. If labels aren’t sufficiently durable crucial information can be lost, causing the process to have to be repeated. Laminating labels gives them a much better chance of surviving the extreme temperatures, water exposure and abrasions that they can experience within medical and laboratory settings
Patient identification is another area where labelling needs to be of the highest quality. This means that your staff can be certain they’re dealing with the correct individuals, and therefore administer the appropriate care. Again, these labels need to be able to withstand wear and tear while retaining legibility.
To learn more about how Brother can help you improve communication processes within your healthcare facility through our range of printers and scanners that support interoperability and confidentiality, and our best in class laminated labels, get in touch with our team today.