WA Health plots decade-long IT systems overhaul in new digital strategy

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WA Health plots decade-long IT systems overhaul in new digital strategy

State-wide e-health record to form foundation.

WA Health has laid out plans for a widespread overhaul of its clinical and corporate IT systems over the next decade as part of a new digital health strategy aimed squarely at improving patient care.

The ten-year blueprint [pdf], released on Wednesday, reveals an extensive program of work to transform the state’s health system through interoperable systems, big data, AI and data analytics.

Central to the strategy’s vision is the planned state-wide electronic medical record (EMR), which is considered the foundation for many of the patient-centric improvements WA Health hopes to introduce.

The department has already begun looking at its EMR options, having approached the market in August to gain an understanding of the “current market environment”.

The case for a state-wide EMR was established in the government’s sustainable health review interim report last year as a means to achieving better access to patient records.

The final report [pdf], released in April this year, urged WA Health to work towards “all health services having a functional electronic medical record or equivalent by July 2029”.

But in the 2020-2030 digital strategy, the department said it would look to begin implementing the planned EMR over the next two years.

The EMR is expected to provide WA Health with a “single source of truth” for patient information, including “integrated progress notes, clinical assessments and summaries, medication history, images and diagnostic test results”.

It is also slated to link to a planned state-wide electronic medication management (eMeds) system, which could be provided as part of the EMR or as a seperate integrated system.

While the department has not yet decided on the approach it will take for the EMR, the strategy points out that whatever approach is eventually decided on will “represent a significant improvement on the present combination of paper-based and electronic systems”.

WA Health said it plans to rollout the EMR over the course of the next decade, which - in a similar fashion to NSW’s e-health strategy - has been separated into four horizons due to the size and complexity of the shift.

The EMR is expected to help WA’s health system to become “increasingly virtual and personalised healthcare system”, partly because of  the “seamless access to real-time comprehensive patient information”.

“Though the use of mobile devices, video, web-based services and remote monitoring sensors, the patient is connected with clinicians, carers and health information in more direct and efficient ways,” the strategy states.

But not only patients will benefit from the system. Clinical staff will be able to access real-time information anywhere using a mobile device, leading to improved efficiency.

WA Health is currently working on a state-wide end user computing strategy to ensure staff have “secure, authenticated access to WA health systems” through a single sign-on system.

“A mobile-enabled employee portal will allow streamlined access by employees to their personal records such as rosters, payroll and leave, as well as to the specific business and clinical systems that they use,” the strategy states.

New beginnings

While the EMR is a cornerstone for the digital strategy, WA Health is also planning to introduce new clinical and corporate systems.

One such system is a new collaborative shared care platform, which will integrate primary, secondary and tertiary health services.

The department said this would allow “real-time communication and holistic care planning between community-based physicians, allied health professionals, hospital specialists and patients”.

A seperate patient portal allowing citizens to directly access “real-time and contextualised information” such as diagnostic results will also be introduced.

Other immediate priorities include a new financial management information system for staff, and rolling out fast, reliable wi-fi in hospitals across the health system.

“The lack of connectivity due to poor telecommunication services in regional and remote areas of the State remains a primary concern as it limits the ability of health practitioners to deliver equitable health outcomes to all Western Australians,” the strategy states.

Application consolidation

New systems will also see WA Health replace or upgrade other critical clinical and corporate systems, which have been introduced in an ad-hoc fashion.

“The proliferation of unmanaged applications across the WA health system has resulted in considerable duplication and inefficiencies,” the strategy states.

“Existing systems and applications will be reviewed, and where possible retired or replaced by a common agreed platform. Particular attention will be given to those nearing the end of their life or licence support period.”

AI, AR and all things emerging tech

The digital strategy similarly outlines a number of emerging technologies that WA Health hopes to introduce across the state’s health system over the next decade.

“The WA health system will progressively adopt and introduce this technology to provide benefits to consumers and enhance the clinician’s experience of health services wherever feasible,” the strategy states.

Technologies identified include augmented and virtual reality “to help clinicians practice clinical procedures, simulate surgery and prepare for new and complex procedures”.

Clinicians are also expected to benefit from AI and robotic process automation to help them “spend more time providing care and less time perfuming administrative and repetitive tasks”.

However, WA Health will ensure that any emerging technology that it adopts or changes to clinical and corporate systems is in line with the strategy’s six strategic themes.

The department will then identify funding sources and work with Treasury and the Office of Digital Government to focus investment and its resources.

“The right investment in several key corporate systems will address legacy issues associated with activities such as financial reporting, payroll and rostering,” the strategy states.

WA Health will now look to undertake a “digital capability and maturity assessment” and review its legislative and policy foundation to support the implementation of the strategy.

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