New emphasis on building 'traceability' into the healthcare digital thread


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The need to build product traceability into more processes within the health system has been highlighted by patients, patient groups and regulators globally.

This means not only making changes within the traditional supply chain itself, but also in the parts of the health system where the products come into contact with the patient, extending the supply chain all the way through to the patient.

Achieving this requires investment in systems and technology that will make it possible in the future to capture, store and manage the necessary data.

The need for greater availability of data is being driven by patients who are demanding to have accurate and up-to-date records of what devices have been implanted in, or used on, them.

Past incidents, where patient contact to communicate product issues was inhibited due to a lack of available data, have also highlighted the need for change. The mobile nature of Australia’s population makes this a necessity.

Regulators around the world are already beginning to reinforce the change in behavior that is needed. The global move towards a harmonised and visible approach on how medical products are managed is also being discussed in Australia. However, beyond the regulation there is a significant technology uplift needed to ensure that traceability is enabled within the vast digital health landscape being implemented in Australia.

Healthcare Digital Thread as defined by GS1 global healthcare community. Access the digital thread online1. For a larger image, click here.

By working with their global healthcare community, GS1 defined the Healthcare Digital Thread (refer to diagram) to help depict the collaborative interrelationships and connections between healthcare ecosystem stakeholders. It also shows how the use of data and global standards can help give visibility to the physical flow of products and services that support patients.

Change is inevitable, though unfortunately complicated in Australia by our intricate health systems and geography. An effective digital thread in the real world calls for increased collaboration between all stakeholders. For healthcare providers it is critical to increase interoperability between electronic health records, enterprise resource planning, clinical and other relevant systems, which means that the solution provider community needs to adopt standards within their product offering.

The benefits to health providers and patients are obvious by ensuring there is consistent data and the ability to track products through to patients. With an effective and interoperable digital thread, product data can be efficiently captured, exchanged and analysed for future product development.

The increased emphasis on the use of global standards supports the need for data accuracy related to many of the digital health initiatives in Australia. Many leading clinicians and informaticians are advocating strongly for this to support patient safety initiatives and create greater visibility within their organisations.

For the sake of all patients, every stakeholder in the healthcare chain — large and small — must start planning for, and gradually implementing, traceability improvements within their organisations.

For more information visit www.GS1au.org/healthcare or call 1300 227 263.

1. The interactive version of the GS1 Digital Thread can be accessed at https://xchange.gs1.org/sites/hc/hdt.

2. The TGA consultation on a proposed Unique Device Identification system can be accessed here.

Main image caption: It’s important for patient care to have accurate and up-to-date records of what devices have been implanted or used. Image provided for use with expressed permission of the patient.

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