On the basis of this research, we would now answer the three anchor questions as follows.
- Australia’s allied health practitioners are ready to adopt eHealth technologies that improve either their practice’s operational efficiency or clinical outcomes – indeed many have already done so. However, the allied health professions are not yet ready for the transition to coordinated eHealth solutions across the entire health ecosystem – mature eHealth solutions accommodating allied health care processes and allowing interoperability are not commonly available.
Allied health practitioners have the fundamental infrastructural and aptitudinal readiness required for eHealth adoption and use, and are broadly optimistic about its potential. Further, six distinct attitudinal readiness clusters emerge within the allied health community, from proactive pioneers to firm non-adopters, allowing the development of targeted adoption strategies.
However, the fragmentation of the allied health community remains a key hurdle – the majority of eHealth adoption has been driven at the practice-level in relative isolation, resulting in a diverse range of system capabilities and maturities. Accordingly, practices remain incapable of direct integration into a health system-wide network. In order to realize the most valuable patient benefits outlined in the National E-Health Strategy, a coordinated eHealth framework needs to be developed, encompassing the diverse needs of the allied health community in addition to other stakeholders.
- The dominant barrier to greater eHealth adoption across the allied health community is the accommodation of new systems within an established care process. This manifests in concerns over compatibility (both internally and to the wider health network), interruption (system malfunction and availability of support) and risk (patient privacy and the visibility of practitioner performance data).
Allied health practitioners in private practice must maintain their high standard of patient care within a demanding small to medium business environment, where the continuing patient relationship is often fundamental to care outcomes. Potential eHealth solutions must accommodate, through a series of levers outlined in this assessment, the reality that change embodies risk, that system failures have both financial and reputational impacts, that technology must support or enhance, rather than restrain patient outcomes, and that the adoption of a fundamental technology platform is a critical decision for a practice.
Addressing both real and perceived barriers to adoption is fundamental to developing an adoption strategy. Compatibility issues can be countered by establishing clear interoperability standards. A robust governance framework can address uncertainty over use or ownership of data. Technologies can be tailored to fit the care process of a specific profession given the right incentives. A transparent adoption timeline and visible commitment can stimulate critical-mass adoption. No insurmountable barriers to eHealth adoption exist, but addressing those uncovered is critical to the development of successful adoption strategies.
- The two key enablers of eHealth adoption by allied health practitioners are a conviction that the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, and the assurance that practitioners choosing to adopt eHealth solutions are doing so within a supportive and coordinated framework.
Within the allied health community, the potential benefits of eHealth for both patient outcomes and practice efficiency are broadly anticipated. However, realising the core benefits of eHealth requires long-term progression towards network-wide adoption, while many of the risks emerge immediately at the practice level. Accordingly, there is limited impetus for individual practices to adopt interoperable eHealth solutions beyond those that have immediate and localised benefits.
Several potential intervention levers for driving eHealth adoption and effective use emerged from this assessment. Firstly, the observation of six behavioural clusters determined that, within each profession, there are practitioners who will enthusiastically adopt, and those who will require significant persuasion and assistance. Secondly, for each cluster the strength of specific intervention levers was gauged – professional body support, peer clinical leadership and financial incentives are the major motivators across allied health.
This assessment provides a directional overview of the current state of the eHealth readiness of allied health practitioners. Further, it aims to provide a foundation from which to develop targeted strategies on the engagement of allied health practitioners with eHealth solutions for patient-centred care. In many ways this is a first step - much work remains to be done on understanding the complex interrelationships developing between eHealth solutions, health professionals, patients and other stakeholders, as Australia develops a detailed strategy for the improvement of health outcomes through the adoption of eHealth.
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