My Health Record, rural and remote, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

  • Man and woman

Photo: Australian Digital Health Agency

I’m a GP who has worked all over country Australia, and it is clear to me by now that patients in rural and remote communities will really benefit from up-to-date electronic health information stored in their My Health Record.

Emergency care is critical in rural community health care, both for those who live in bush communities and those passing through. People living in remote areas frequently must travel long distances to get to ‘town’, grey nomads are heading off to all parts doing, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have always been keen travellers between communities.  

So, when accidents or medical mishaps occur and people seek care at the local health centre it is crucial that the doctor or nurse can quickly look up the patient’s medical history, including their conditions, allergies and medications. An up-to-date shared health summary on a My Health Record could prove lifesaving in such situations.

A My Health Record will also be key in improving the health outcomes for sufferers of chronic diseases. These diseases are now the biggest health concern of Australians. It is no longer the case that you get crook once or twice a year and pop into the local doctor for a quick fix up. People are getting sick and staying sick.

Many conditions require monitoring for years, asking the same questions and checking new answers against old ones. What is a patient’s kidney function doing? Has their diabetes control improved or deteriorated? Are they up to date with their six-monthly liver scans?

Australians living in rural and remote areas generally experience poorer health and welfare outcomes than people living in metropolitan areas and they have higher rates of chronic disease and mortality. Indeed, about two-thirds of the total burden of disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is due to chronic diseases. Doctors need to check today’s results against last month’s results, last year’s results and so on, and use that information to plan for the next set of investigations, check-ups or specialist reviews.

In an ideal world, everyone has their own regular GP, with their own records, who know their patient’s medical history intimately. However, that ideal world is far less common these days. Some communities have locums, some have fly-in fly-out health care workers. Patients may see a different doctor every visit, and to optimise care all these health care providers need access to all the important details about a patient’s health. A secure repository for this information, such as My Health Record, provides these accessible details in a secure manner.

Comprehensive, accessible health information available at the point of care reduces harm and improves efficiency and outcomes for patients.

I have been unable to give many of my patients efficient and personalised care because I couldn’t quickly pull-up all their medical information. Instead we waste time waiting for all the information we need to be searched for, hopefully found and then, hopefully, faxed from various providers – hospitals, specialist outpatients, pharmacies, pathology providers, radiology providers, pap smear registers, rheumatic heart disease registers – before we can decide what are the best, next treatment steps. The My Health Record can store a patient’s blood test results, radiology results, hospital discharge letters and medications - the key information essential to choosing the optimal treatment pathway for my patients.

Dr Caroline Yates is a GP and Clinical Reference Lead for the Australian Digital Health Agency. The National Rural Health Alliance receives funding from the ADHA for communications and awareness raising about My Health Record.


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