It's terminal: Why our doctors' reluctance to change could cost our lives

Think about the last time you went to the doctor – has the surgery you go to changed in recent times? Has your doctor changed the way they work and check your symptoms?

The majority of us will say that no, nothing has changed dramatically in the way our health care is provided at our doctor’s surgery. In fact, not much would have changed in the last 20 years.

You go to the doctor, sit in the waiting room, and read a magazine. You go in and the doctor does your blood pressure and checks your breathing etc. They then tell you what you need to do and write a script, and off you go.

Most of us think this is fine and an easy enough way to get help for our illnesses, but over the last few years, the GP world has been changing behind the scenes.

Doctors have a certain formula that works and is fairly easy. With the introduction of the e-health system three years ago, one would think that their electronic medical information would be discussed at an appointment. Personally, the last 5 or 6 times I’ve been to the doctor, they have not discussed my e-health record, nor asked for it. I’m not sure they even have it on their records. When I went to the hospital recently, the woman next to me had a manila folder filled with around three reams of paper in it – yes, three reams. If she was in a life threatening situation, and someone wanted to know her history, it could take hours to even find the piece of paper. Yet, e-health’s integration still doesn’t seem high on the priority list, and it could be costing our lives.

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According to information from Professor Steve Hambleton, the chair of the National E-Health Transition Authority, the hospitalisation of thousands of people each year could be prevented if their health providers shared information electronically, but they can’t because their software systems do not talk to each other.

Shockingly, around 230,000 people are admitted to Australian hospitals every year as a result of this error, causing huge problems with medication.

Professor Hambleton told Fairfax that poor communication between nurses, GPs, emergency staff, pharmacists and other health professionals resulted in thousands of preventable hospitalisations and deaths because patients were doubling up on medication or taking the wrong drugs.

Now IT companies working on the billion dollar database are trying to make the systems communicate, otherwise e-health is essentially doomed.

So far, only one million people have joined e-health and doctors aren’t helping – they’re not loading patient details onto the system at every check up despite that being what it’s used for.

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The Abbott government re-committed to the electronic health records system post-Budget after acknowledging it needed to be changed so patients opted out rather than opt-in as they currently do.

But time will tell if even opt-out will truly be the solution, or if the key lies in how our doctors feel about putting the power in patients’ hands.


Tell us, is it time doctors did this for the greater good? Or do they know best?