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Why the Information Revolution in healthcare won’t wait any longer

Telstra News

Posted on March 10, 2016

5 min read

Better use of data and technology has the power to improve health and wellbeing and transform the quality and value of health and care services.

Telstra Health is in a unique position to harness the power of the modern information revolution for patients and citizens in Australia and around the world – I am delighted to be joining the business as its new strategy and commercial director.

The internet touches every part of our society: it has made things faster, cheaper and better.  More than three quarters of citizens in Australia (and in the UK) go online every day. But the mobile revolution that has transformed so much of the rest of our lives does not support us nearly well enough as patients, citizens or care-givers.

Recent research shows that doctors and nurses can spend up to 70% of their time in administration – access to new mobile solutions, such as tools that report the vital signs of their patients in real time, reduce that.  Many patients want access to online health services so that they can easily book appointments or order routine prescriptions from home; others want to access their medical data and share it with health apps they can trust.

Why shouldn’t clinical professionals be enabled by technology to do their jobs better? Why shouldn’t patients have a world-class customer experience when they are sick? Everybody has their own stories: but we all know healthcare needs to do better.

I have spent the past four years working as the National Director for the NHS in England, responsible for putting data and technology best to work for citizens and the professionals who serve them.

Each year the NHS spends around A$200bn on care services – it is the largest unitary public health system in the world and it has prioritised the introduction of new digital services because of the clear evidence that they make healthcare safer, more convenient and better value for money. Patients in England are now able to book appointments with GPs online, order repeat prescriptions and access their medical records in real time; by 2018 clinicians in emergency care will no longer need paper records to treat their patients – all relevant medical information will be digital and real time. The NHS has made a great start but there is much more that needs to be done – Telstra Health is already supporting it to realise the benefits that new data technologies offer.

Before that I worked for the British government as the country’s first director of Transparency and Open Government where I oversaw reforms which gave much greater public access to information about local health and other public services – including about individual surgeons and local hospitals, so that people could make more informed decisions about where they wished to go for treatment.

My journey into health started back in 2000 when I co-founded a business called Dr Foster which pioneered new approaches to measuring quality in healthcare – what that taught me is the power of digital information in improving services. It seems extraordinary that most health services in the world do not have accurate information about who uses their services, or why, or at what cost – and this makes them, in the worst cases, harmful. One of the worst tragedies in the recent history of the NHS – at Stafford Hospital in the West Midlands, in which several hundred people are thought to have died avoidably from poor quality care – was the result, in large part, of a shocking absence of management information about the standards of its services.

Better data in healthcare is a social as much as an economic imperative: without it, health services are dangerous and most likely to operate with unsustainable inefficiency. This is why Dr Foster – and the broader hospital services and health informatics businesses in Telstra Health – are such an important priority: already working with partners in Australia and around the world to transform the costs and quality of health and care.

There is another key reason for society to harness the power of the Information Revolution in healthcare – and that is to keep health services at the cutting edge of medical science. I had the privilege of leading for the NHS on the implementation of a new national programme to sequence 100,000 whole human genomes and understand how this transformational new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer could work best for patients. The cost of sequencing a genome has dropped from $2bn to under $1,000 in less than a decade.

But none of the benefits of these new breakthrough sciences can be delivered if health services are not digital, or able to analyse complex human data – or indeed if citizens and patients are not able to access their data online and make sense of it.

One day we’ll all look back and wonder how we let the health services we rely on for the care of our families get so far behind the rest of our lives. I’ve moved to Australia because the Information Revolution in healthcare won’t wait any longer – and Telstra Health is leading the way.