Telstra and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) announced the signing of an agreement to work together to launch e-health applications on a web-hosted service platform.
The announcement comes at a time when the e-health agenda in Australia is heating up following the government's commitment earlier in the year of more than AUD460 million for a national e-health strategy and the federal parliament's recent passing of crucial enabling legislation for healthcare identifiers.
One of the biggest challenges for e-health reform is to achieve a more coherent and integrated approach to sharing information across more than 1,300 hospitals, 20,000 GP and specialist practices and 5,000 pharmacies. The fragmentation of the sector's governance regimes and ongoing turmoil in funding and organizational arrangements make top-down reform a tough game that will be played out over decades.
In this context it is also attractive to look for ways to accelerate bottom-up interoperability, which is all about the clinical and practice-management systems implemented in medical practices. Upgrading these systems and orchestrating them to produce a national e-health symphony is a huge task, but cloud computing is starting to be recognized as a potentially viable way of encouraging adoption of the next generation of standardized interoperable systems.
Telstra is looking to offer medical practitioners the benefits of the latest application functionality and standards-based interoperability accessed via the Internet from a secure and robust cloud back end.
Health can learn a cloud lesson from other sectors
Salesforce.com's SaaS CRM and service-center applications are used by more than 75,000 organizations around the world, ranging from some with thousands of users to others with only a few. Standardized but configurable applications can meet the disparate needs of a large number of organizations irrespective of their business type and geographic location.
This provides a thought-provoking example of how SaaS solutions can achieve a critical mass of bottom-up adoption simply by providing a better "mousetrap" - a good enough solution that is easier to try, buy, deploy, and use than more traditional in-house alternatives because the application is already running at scale and available over the Internet and data just needs to be migrated.
An e-health SaaS portal must offer integrated solutions
Australian vendors in the clinical-care and practice-management systems landscape include among many others Best Practice, Global Health, Health Communication Network (HCN), Houston Medical, Intrahealth, iSoft, Jam Software, LRS Health, Smart soft, Intracore, Medilink, Meditech and Zedmed. Global vendors are also present in the market.
Many are moving their systems online, and some, such as Intracore with its Online Practice Management Studio, already have SaaS offerings. Telstra has some toe-in-the-water experience with its T-Suite SaaS portal, but it will need to come up with a much more compelling offering to create momentum in the fragmented e-health market.
In our view the key will be to provide integration benefits in addition to those from simply plugging GPs into a robust computing utility. Piecemeal solutions will hardly be compelling enough for GPs to switch from their existing approach, so Telstra will need to orchestrate an integrated suite of SaaS offerings pre-configured to align and stay aligned with the standards and interoperability requirements of the national e-health strategy, and also leverage its communications strengths in areas such as telehealth. This would make a better mousetrap.
Telstra is wise to stake out its claim early in the emerging e-health cloud services market because the sector is at the start of a major phase of technology renewal. While it is not yet clear exactly how, where, and when cloud services will gain traction with medical practices, the winners will be those that occupy the territory nationally and learn fast.