• Benjamin Moss

General Practice Technology - Headache or Hero?

Technology is both my saviour and the bane of my existence. When it works, things run more

efficiently, I can work easier (not harder), and a task that might otherwise be specialist in nature is achievable by me. On the flip side, when it doesn’t work, even the most simple task becomes an insurmountable speed bump, my levels of frustration are through the roof and it usually involves me having to get a specialist out to fix the technological maze that I have found myself trapped in. In this article, I intend to cover some of those technological wonders that are currently making the health practitioners life more efficient and on the flip side, how they can backfire spectacularly.

>> Telehealth <<

One of the most talked-about medical technologies as of late is Telehealth. In the 2020/21 budget, the Australian Government is providing $112 million for the continuation of Medicare rebated Telehealth services for general practitioners, allied health and specialist consultations to ensure ongoing access to health practitioners. Telehealth as technology has proven to have an incredible application, particularly during the COVID-19 era, a technology that has safeguarded the frontline practitioners whilst allowing them to continue operations. It has also made health practitioners accessible to those from a rural base. The flipside of this connectivity is the fear that this system is vulnerable to attack and therefore, the data or sensitive conversations with the doctors through this medium may end up distributed publically. Although it is a requirement that the medical centres abide by specific data security standards, there is no assurance that the recipient of the Telehealth advice is doing likewise (e.g. using unsecured WiFi). Be this an unfounded fear or not, the fact that it remains a fear for some patients may lessen the uptake of the system.

Another drawback of this Telehealth system is the effect of a generational difference which has the potential to make it almost inaccessible to those with less technological knowledge or at least those without assistance in accessing it themselves.

Finally, the very fact that the patient cannot be in the same room as the doctor is both a benefit as well as a drawback. Although many of us have gotten used to conversations via zoom calls and all the unflattering angles that go with it, many of us still prefer to have conversations face to face, particularly when it comes to healthcare.

>> Automated Check-In Systems <<

If you are a medical receptionist reading this cover your eyes because what I am about to write might horrify you. The traditional front receptionist model is under threat from technology. We see this today in some general practices and dentistry settings where you are met with an automated check-in system upon entering the respective clinic. The benefits of this are huge, but equally so are the drawbacks. From the perspective of the practice owner, the difference in not hiring a receptionist or receptionists means significant dollar savings. Furthermore, automated check-in systems don’t take annual leave or take sick days. Utilising the automated check-in systems also enables further technological integrations making practice operations slicker and more streamlined for practitioners.

The above benefits come with huge drawbacks, one of which is the lack of a receptionist. Having a human behind the desk adds to the patient journey and their experience within the clinic, ergo their likelihood of returning. I believe this is particularly important in a psychological setting where a warm smiling face can be a softener to an often tense or uncomfortable situation.

There are also security issues raised by having automated check-in systems. A large majority of these systems are not stored locally, instead are stored on a cloud. The systems are more often than not, tended to by an off-site administrator. One of the issues raised from this is what level of access to data do these off-site administrators have and how much sensitive or confidential data are they privy too? These are questions that need to be considered before the implementation of automated check-in systems because as we have seen in the press as of late, data leaks can be highly destructive and potentially fatal for any business let alone one where confidentiality is critical.

The final drawback of automated check-in systems I’d like to mention is that when it glitches or the power drops out, get ready for a world of hurt. Generally, receptionists don’t lose power during the middle of the day or become glitchy requiring hours of power cycling or troubleshooting to get back on track. This can lead to hours of practice downtime and confusion for the practitioners.

Technology in the general practice arena is here to stay and when utilised efficiently can make the practitioner’s practice a well-oiled machine. However, in utilising these technologies, consideration needs to made as to the sacrifices required to allow these technologies, potential risks in the implementation and most importantly, whether they suit your overall practice requirements.

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