By JO TIMBUONG
KUALA LUMPUR: Health records are one of the most important pieces of information about a person because it aids medical staff to better care for a patient. So wouldn't it be great to have all that data in one repository for doctors and patients to access?
During our lifetime we may have changed doctors several times, so bits and pieces of our medical records are kept by different clinics or hospitals. To be useful, all that information should be on tap for us no matter which clinic or hospital we've been admitted to.
In that vein, the Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre (UMSC) is working towards transforming its IT healthcare system - which will include creating a single repository for digitised healthcare records so doctors can easily pull out the data they need to treat a patient, and cloud computing will be the main technology driving it.
Its head of healthcare IT, Leon Jackson, said that currently such data is stored in different silos and doctors need to dig through the various stacks to get the information they need to have a better picture of patients' ailments and medical history.
"This becomes even more critical when doctors need to make a decision in an emergency," he said during a media briefing at the IBM Smart Solutions conference in Kuala Lumpur.
A single repository would also help make patient registration easier. In some instances, Leon said, patients have to register and re-register themselves because some hospitals and clinics do not have modern information management systems.
Such improvements also can help reduce waiting times for patients seeking treatment. Leon and his team conducted a study on this, and was able to reduce the time to 90 minutes. "Some patients have had to wait for up to four hours previously," he said.
Leon said the UMSC's IT transformation initiative will also include the use of mobile technology that will enable doctors to retrieve the information they need on the fly via tablet computers.
"The old process had doctors running to computer terminals to retrieve and update their patients' data, which can be prone to errors because there could be distractions, or such errands may be an interruption to their medical rounds," he said.
Another part of the transformation is the ability to connect with the systems of other healthcare providers to allow physicians to better collaborate and provide treatments.
Leon said the Malaysian healthcare landscape is shifting from infectious diseases to chronic diseases, so collaborations between healthcare experts is even more crucial now.
"Treating chronic illnesses requires a lot of collaboration between doctors. It's important that these experts are able to access the healthcare data they need when they are working to solve a problem," he said.
Patients can benefit from an interconnected healthcare system, especially when they wish to seek a second opinion after receiving a prognosis from their doctor.
"An interconnected data system will allow doctors to retrieve details from the first prognosis when making their assessment. This will also empower patients since the resources are available to them to seek a second opinion," he added.
A transformed healthcare system driven by IT may sound feasible but the patient sentiment would be the biggest obstacle keeping it from happening, according to Leon.
He said many patients are concerned about security issues and are uncomfortable with having their healthcare records openly available. He believes this fear will subside as the concept matures.
"If we can do Internet banking safely, then we are prepared for an IT-driven healthcare delivery system," he said.
Leon, 34, said the transformation should be driven by the grassroots and healthcare institutions can entice them with new services that the transformation will enable.
A simple portal for patients to look up their records to better keep tabs on their health or even the creation of a dedicated social media page for better doctor-patient relations are some of the ideas he has in mind.
Managing healthcare records electronically goes beyond just a patient's name and list of medication. Data captured by various medical tests, such as electro cardiography or magnetic resonance imaging, need to be stored as well.
Leon said IBM storage and server technologies, equipped with the latest storage virtualisation technology, as well as storage solutions from other vendors, have helped the UMSC save up to 60% in infrastructure costs.
More than one million patients in total are treated annually by the UMSC and its sister institution, the University of Malaya Medical Centre.
Once the transformation is completed by 2016, Leon said, both medical centres are expected to be treating about three million patients a year in total.