E-health investment boosts health informatics careers

18 September 2009

If someone had told you 20 years ago that we would all have individually controlled electronic health records that we managed ourselves by 2012 you wouldn't have believed them. But this could be the reality in Australia if the recommendations of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission are adopted.

Australia isn't the only country with a growing focus on e-health, with the US Government last month announcing grants of $1.4billion to assist hospitals and health care providers in establishing and using electronic health records.

"There is currently worldwide interest in the potential of electronic health records to help reduce medical errors and improve the efficiency of health care systems,' says Professor Robert Steele, Head of the Discipline of Health Informatics and Director of Sydney University's Health Informatics Computation and Innovation Lab.

"This will result in an increased need for trained professionals who have both a comprehensive understanding of health, and the privacy and security issues that go along with developing and implementing these technologies."

The growing focus on this area has seen an increased interest in tertiary education programs focused on health informatics from both domestic and international students - many of which already possess training in nursing or medicine.

Two such students are medical doctors Associate Professor Monsak Chuchotirot from Thailand and Dr Suta Awidiya from Indonesia, who are currently enrolled in the Master of Health Informatics at the University of Sydney.

Dr Suta, who is studying on an AusAID scholarship, was motivated to undertake the course due to frustrations with the lack of consistency in the collation of medical information during his time working in a public hospital in Bali.

"Computers are only used for registration and billing purposes. IT people who are contracted to maintain this system do not have any knowledge in the medical area. Consequently, the terminologies used in the system are confusing," says Dr Suta.

Obstetrician A/Prof Chuchotirot shares the same sentiments, having worked on initial plans to setup a central unit for improving the medical record department at Thailand's largest and most prestigious teaching hospital, Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok.

"As a doctor who has had the chance to study this master's degree, I think I will have an important role in sharing how essential health informatics is and the benefits that can be gained from it, when I return," comments Churchotirot.

The University of Sydney offers a two-year graduate entry master's program in health informatics and is leading Australian research in the field.