Digital health taken to the extreme

25 October 2019

Lessons learned from delivering digital health services to one of the most remote and extreme environments on the planet will be shared by keynote speaker Jeff Ayton during Digital Health Week NZ next month.

Ayton is chief medical officer with the Australian Antarctic Division, which provides a comprehensive 24/7 medical and surgical service to its four stations in Antarctica.

One doctor lives at each station, supported by a wider medical team based in Hobart, Australia. The stations are totally isolated for nine months of the year.

Ayton says most of the medical requirements are for GP services, but doctors also deal with trauma and mental health issues as well as some surgeries such as appendicectomies.

“Out of necessity we had to have medical support systems and training to enable a single lone doctor to support these communities without any other healthcare professionals,” explains Ayton.

“Telemedicine and digital health systems are key and central to the programme is a shared electronic health record.”

The Australian programme uses Intrahealth Profile as its EHR. This has information input from both doctors and lay people who are trained to act as surgical assistants while in Antarctica.

It is connected to diagnostic systems such as laboratory, pathology and radiology, as well as remote monitoring and incorporates decision support based on this information.

“When the medical team in Hobart is providing advice to the lone doctor over winter, they are all looking at the same clinical information,” Ayton says.

“This is a key quality and safety aspect and improves efficiency in the delivery of healthcare.”

Ayton says middleware automatically links point-of-care testing devices into the EHR, giving the onsite doctors more time to spend with patients.

The Hobart team has weekly teleconference calls with the doctors and, if necessary, can link in with specialists at Royal Hobart Hospital.

“There’s lessons to be learned from this extreme environment medical support model,” he says.

“Key lessons are around having a shared EHR that all members of the health care team have access to.

“The patients is at the core and in order to achieve the best outcomes, all of the healthcare team needs to be working together and sharing information and the more efficiently we can do that, the better.”

Ayton will present on delivering digital health to Antarctica during Digital Health Week NZ 18-22 November.

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