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e-Health records no cure-all for healthcare challenges

Chee-Sing Chan (Computerworld HK) | Sept. 30, 2013
While this rush to implement EHR systems gathers pace especially in Asia, some observers warn against placing too much importance on the concept of a national e-health record at the risk of losing sight of the end goal.


Spending on healthcare IT is set to surge as governments around the world seek to reduce healthcare costs amidst aging population growth and also driven by a demand for healthcare systems integration, noted a report by research firm Markets and Markets.

The report forecasted that global healthcare IT spending will rise from 2012's US$40.4 billion to US$56.7 billion by 2017.

In Asia there is a major focus among countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia to develop national e-health record (EHR) systems as a basis for transforming healthcare delivery.

The integration of systems and patient data across key institutions and healthcare providers is seen as a key enabler for driving up the quality of healthcare delivery.

Dr William Hersh, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE), Oregon Health & Science University, spoke recently in Singapore on the area using operational e-health record (EHR) data.

He noted that there has been substantial investment in the US with up to US$27 billion to adopt EHR systems. "The Health Information Exchange—a system in the US that allows for sharing of patient data across platforms and geographies, similar to the systems in Hong Kong and Singapore—have afforded healthcare authorities a unique bird's-eye view of patients who get their care in different places," said Hersh.

Eyes on the prize
While this rush to implement EHR systems gathers pace, some observers warn against placing too much importance on the concept of a national e-health record at the risk of losing sight of the end goal.

"I don't actually buy the idea that Singapore or Hong Kong is leading the region in strategic e-health delivery," said Matt Hector-Taylor, CEO of health software provider, HSA Global in New Zealand. The focus in New Zealand has been more about building standard interfaces to enable a variety of parties to access, read and update patient information across different systems while enabling a new approach to healthcare that pushes health delivery away from hospitals and out to the wider healthcare community.

Hector-Taylor, who spoke during an interview at the HIMSS Asia Pacific 2013 conference / Greater China eHealth Forum held recently in Hong Kong, is not convinced that the national EHR concept is core to the overall strategy of improving and transforming healthcare. "The fact that these countries will get these EHR systems live within budget and on time is commendable and we want to see it work and generate value, but these systems in themselves are not going to deliver better healthcare," he said. "The question is: are these EHR systems actually changing any practices around healthcare?"

Hector-Taylor noted the technology in these systems is great but if these systems do not actually change the way people receive healthcare, or enable a cheaper and better method of healthcare, then what have they achieved?


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