View all news

Information technology creates new future for health care delivery


Brigid Veale
31 March 2009
The future of health care lies in the use of information and communication technologies through tools such as remote diagnosis and electronic health records.

The key, according to Professor Peter Croll, is ensuring that the systems developed have built-in mechanisms to protect the safety and privacy of consumers and clinicians. This was highlighted at the weekend with news that a Queensland pathology lab had inadvertently released patient medical histories on the internet.

Professor Croll has recently taken up a position as Professor of Information Technology and Information Systems in Southern Cross University’s School of Commerce and Management, at the Coffs Harbour campus.

He has more than 30 years’ experience in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a software engineer and has spent the last 10 years focusing on electronic health systems and the use of ICT to improve the quality of health care services. Prior to joining Southern Cross University, he held the chair for software engineering at the Queensland University of Technology and continues to work closely with the CSIRO’s E-Health Research Centre on collaborative projects.

With a background in the development of safety critical systems in aircraft control in the United Kingdom, Professor Croll believes the same rigour needs to be applied when developing ICT systems in the health industry.

“In developing aircraft control systems, for example, there is a lot of rigour in the design and testing of those systems and there is no one single point of failure,” Professor Croll said.

“At the moment that doesn’t happen in the health sector and there are tens of thousands of people affected by medical errors a year.

“We need to invest in the infrastructure. To attract the best doctors and nurses we need to have the best system that addresses issues of privacy, security, useability, acceptance and safety.

“In the US, President Obama has announced an investment of $19 billion to computerise America’s health records as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

Professor Croll said there could be enormous benefits from the use of electronic health records, but issues of privacy and consistency of information need to be addressed.

He said the release of patient information by a pathology lab at the weekend demonstrated how easily these breaches of privacy could happen.

“The more recent advancement of digital technology and e-health is providing a revolution in both medical know-how and healthcare provision,” he said.

“But with this advance the traditional boundaries are being breached. The concept of confining information in written form to a physical location, such as a surgery, is gradually disappearing.

“The remote and high speed access that today’s digital technology brings presents new challenges for healthcare providers, the ICT industries, lawyers and individuals alike.”

The ageing population, in Australia and globally, is also creating demand for new ways to deliver health care services.

“In Japan and Italy nearly 50 per cent of the population is over 50 with already one in five past retirement age. This trend will be reflected in Australia – there will be more and more elderly people and fewer working people to look after them,” he said.

“As a result there will be an increasing need to look towards technology to deliver services.”

Professor Croll is working on the development of ‘smart homes’, in which technology is used to enable frail and elderly people, or those with chronic illness, to stay in their homes longer.

Currently 100,000 homes in Australia have been fitted with wireless technologies for automated emergency response services connecting to call centres. This technology can also be used to track people’s movements in and around the home, assist with medication management and monitor the wellbeing of the individual and their environment. For example, a person with dementia can have their house wired to provide an alert if the stove is left on, if they have forgotten to take their medicine on time or if a person simply hasn’t returned to bed in the middle of the night.

“What we are aiming for is an increase in the use of remote diagnosis and care, for things such blood and weight monitoring,” he said. “This is invaluable for regional and remote settings.”

Professor Croll’s work will tie in closely with research already under way at Southern Cross University through the Aged Services Learning and Research Centre (ASLaRC) and the School of Health and Human Sciences.

Photo: Professor Peter Croll has taken up a position as Professor of Information Technology and Information Systems in Southern Cross University’s School of Commerce and Management, at the Coffs Harbour campus.