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20 November 2018

We live in a digital world, where people carry supercomputers in their pockets and can buy things at the touch of a button. They rightly assume their healthcare is just as connected. But it isn’t.

“If you go to two different doctors, they can’t both see your results,” says Dr Caroline Yates. “If you’re travelling and run out of medicine, your doctor can’t see what you’re taking. Patients should be able to assume that health information is available when they need it, where they need it.”

Caroline has seen it all. She’s been a GP for more than 20 years, first in the UK where she grew up and then in Australia. She’s worked across the spectrum of general practice across Australia, including some of our most remote communities.

But no matter where she’s been, Caroline has seen the same issue of access to important health information crop up.

“This is my driver for getting involved with My Health Record,” she says. “Patients are at risk if they don’t have the results of their tests or don’t have specialist advice actioned. We should have a better way of communicating. It’s very frustrating.”

Making information useful

Caroline currently works as a GP in the Brisbane suburb of Inala, which has a large multicultural community including people with refugee backgrounds. She also does locum jobs where she can, providing services to rural and remote places. For both groups, she says My Health Record will be a huge advantage.

“I see a lot of patients with non-English speaking backgrounds or with fairly low health literacy,” Caroline says. “They’re absolutely willing to do what I advise, to see a specialist and do what needs to be done. But if you can’t read your medications, if you can’t really understand what that latest hospital test was for, it’s very difficult to come and tell me about it.”

Without a central access point, it can be hard for doctors to get up-to-date information. Caroline says this is particularly problematic for GPs, who often monitor patients with chronic conditions.

“It’s not the case that you just go to a doctor with a problem, get a treatment and go away again,” Caroline says. “I’m seeing patients that require regular checks. I need to see what’s going on over time. Patients who don’t have a regular doctor need a way for their information to be visible at the point of care.”

Doctors face many hurdles. If Caroline needs to access a blood test or a specialist’s report that’s not addressed to her, she needs to ask the patient to sign a release of information form, fax it over to the provider and wait for it to be faxed back. It’s highly inefficient and disruptive.

“For patients taking multiple medications or with significant health conditions, making sure their information is available to the person treating them is very important,” Caroline says.

Meeting patient expectations

While My Health Record will have a number of benefits for patients, it won’t change the GP’s role as the cornerstone of primary care.

“There are some concerns that a lay person reading a medical report may be unnecessarily worried about something,” Caroline says. “But I’m hopeful that it opens up more options for communication with their GP. I hope I can explain why I’m particularly worried about one thing and not about another.”

Caroline says it will enhance care because doctors will have access to the information they need and patients will be able to monitor their own health details.

“My Health Record is aligning care with patient expectations,” she says. “At the moment they’re disempowered because they can’t get information about what’s going on with their health as easily as they should. Now, patients will have more information available to them, if they wish to use it. It will bring healthcare into the digital age.”