Led by the Institute for Health Transformation’s Professor Elizabeth Manias in collaboration with Alfred Deakin Professor Tracey Bucknall, the project will examine how health professionals engage with patients with complex needs and their families when using electronic medical records within hospitals.

The ARC Discovery Project funding was announced in late December 2021.

The project will involve observations of real-time care in hospitals within Victoria and New South Wales, and workshops with patients with complex needs and their families, health professionals and other stakeholders to develop strategies and solutions to enhance engagement with patients and their families in the use of electronic medical records.

Electronic medical records are commonly used within hospitals to document clinical information and for health professionals to communicate with one another. However, patients and their families are rarely involved in the use of these records, Professor Manias said.

“Eventually, all hospitals around Australia will use electronic medical records as the means by which health professionals communicate with each other in order to carry out patient care effectively and efficiently,” Professor Manias said.

“Our concern is that if health professionals are communicating with each other through these electronic records, but don’t include the patient and their family in some way, then there is every chance that the care will not be safe or of high quality.”

“And it’s likely that patient harm may occur because of that.”

Patients with complex needs, such as those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, living with multiple chronic conditions or taking multiple prescribed medications, are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the use of electronic medical records, Professor Manias said.

“If a patient has complex needs, it increases the likelihood of them going through a number of different transitions of care, such as a variety of ward settings or having a range of different specialists coming to see them when they’re in hospital,” Professor Manias said.

“For example, if you have someone who’s got five different chronic conditions and they’re in hospital, the parent unit that manages the patient may have to seek out referrals to other specialists to come and review the patient. And so, because you have additional involvement with other health professionals, that increases the potential for communication breakdown to occur, especially if electronic medical records are involved.

“Furthermore, we know that these patients often feel overwhelmed or even fearful about asserting themselves in care settings. And, because of this, health professionals can be more likely to make decisions on the patient’s behalf. The presence of health professionals interacting with each other in using the electronic medical record can also act as a major barrier to patient and family communication.

“Through this project and the development of novel and patient-centred strategies, we’re trying to help these patients and their families become more actively involved in decision-making about their care through the use of electronic medical records.”