Don't forget the people in e-health: NSW Health CIO

NSW Health's CIO is pushing for a change in how IT is used in healthcare systems, after having personally felt the consequences of a system that forgets clinicians and patients.

Augmenting a state's complex health system with technology requires large projects to allow systems to work with each other — and although these are important, they are not what the state now needs to focus on, according to NSW Health CIO Greg Wells.

Speaking to an audience of IT professionals at the Australian Information Industry Association's (AIIA) NSW healthcare briefing this morning, Wells walked through the story of "Pip", a mother of three boys, one of whom was diagnosed with a brain tumour last June.

Pip's story highlighted the need for electronic health records; in this case, months of initial symptoms were missed, which, when viewed together, would have indicated that something was very wrong. By the time the doctors had put all of the pieces together, the tumour had grown to a life-threatening size.

The lack of electronic records also meant that critical anti-nausea medication was not administered when it was needed, significantly delaying Pip's son's recovery. It was after this that Pip kept her own detailed notes in a paper-based log book — information that she believed would have helped clinicians earlier.

Wells, who has a personal connection with Pip's story, said that the state's strategy has to address such matters; not just working on e-health foundations, but also on actual tools that clinicians and patients can make use of.

"We're thinking about how we really support clinicians in using information. It's not just about a system that does medications management," Wells said. He added that there is simply no point in having the systems if clinicians aren't able to use them easily.

Part of solving the problem is NSW Health's strategy to engage with clinicians more rather than just dictating how systems should be designed, using the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare's standards as guidelines.

"The phase moving forward is not 'Here's our [electronic medical records system]. You're going to do this, you're going to do that'; it's 'What do you, clinical leadership group, think we should be doing based on these standards?'"

Another part of solving the problem is getting the IT industry to create applications to make the wealth of information in health systems useful, asking the industry to become active in this regard.

Lastly, to make it clear that he doesn't have a vendetta against the healthcare system that he is attempting to improve, Wells clarified his intentions in bringing in his and Pip's very personal story.

"I don't put that out to be critical of the hospital — the care we got was fantastic. I don't put it out there to grandstand, and the people that know me here know I'm a private person [and] I don't do that. I put it out there because if there's anything positive to come out of this, it's the fact that it demonstrates what we're really here for, and, again, that [customer- and clinician-based applications are] the things that we need to be doing, not the big, heavy projects."

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