Flying docs pilot first national e-health database

Regional sites united after 80 years

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is deploying what may be the first national e-health records management system to unify disparate medical databases across its four regional sites.

The RFDS was established in 1928 as the Area Medical Service and provides not-for-profit aero-medical and primary healthcare to regional and remote Australia. It consists of four independent divisions, with 25 sites and 776 staff, and services all but the upper region of the Northern Territory.

Speaking at an e-health summit in Sydney today, RFDS national and sectional ICT manager Gary Oldman said the $2.9 million government-funded e-health records system will replace siloed databases and manual processes throughout the organisation.

“Electronic records are being deployed to other regions [following] the success of the first roll out in our South East [division],” Oldman said, adding it will be the first time the RFDS sites have cooperated in 80 years.

“[Other regions] have separate databases in their laptops without central storage… There are problems with remote access and retrieving patient data after-hours.

“We want to end-up with a single national medical identifier, but [RFDS] is split into legally separate entities. We will use separate identifiers for now.”

The national deployment, dubbed E-Health for Remote Australia (EHRA), will mirror the initial e-health system deployment which centralised nine isolated databases.

It is expected that the Medical Doctor content management database will be installed on all RFDS laptops to facilitate central storage of medical data using Telstra’s Next G mobile network. A replication feature allows data uploads to be delayed during coverage black spots in remote areas.

Oldman said the transition to EHRA will be a “huge challenge” for some RFDS sites, but is confident of meeting the February 2010 completion date thanks to the recruitment of a dedicated project manager, extensive system testing and scheduled staff training.

Staff from the South East division are already calling for more complex data such as x-rays to be included in the database, which holds more than 14,000 client details.

The South East wing employs 165 staff including doctors, nurses, and specialist clinicians, receives some 5000 calls a year, and is the only division to cross three state boundaries. Oldman said the federal government will soon reform laws that require its clinicians to hold medical licences for each state.

Funding for EHRA was granted by the then Howard government under its Clever Networks initiative.

The RFDS last year flew more than 23 million kilometres in 51 aircraft, performed almost 36,000 aerial evacuations and helped 132,524 patients.

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