Optometrist Rajan Kholsa
Cloud-based platform Oculo wants to be better than a letter when it comes to referrals.
Launched in June 2015 by the Centre for Eye Research Australia, Oculo is a website where optometrists can share referrals digitally. Users also have the option to attach optometric images to their referrals.
Oculo CEO Dr Kate Taylor says that Oculo was created to address the problem of new technology in the eye-care sector still relying on unreliable communication methods. The platform was the brainchild of ophthalmologist Professor Jonathan Crowston, who saw the current referral system stifling the flow of patient information, particularly in regards to chronic eye disease.
‘We have so much fantastic technology that supports diagnosis and management but that communication relies still on letters and faxes, and he wanted something that was better than a letter,’ Taylor said.
She says Oculo is aiming to provide a streamlined service that holds patient privacy in high regard, as the current online referral network is mainly through Facebook diagnosis groups and email.
The Optometry Board of Australia does not specifically require patient information to be encrypted but practitioners are bound by the Privacy Act 1988 and must ‘take reasonable steps’ to ensure patient confidentiality when transmitting information.
Oculo’s data are protected using asymmetric encryption, with Amazon Web Service hosting the information digitally in secure facilities across Sydney.
Optometry Australia policy and advocacy advisor Tin Nguyen says that Oculo is one of many solutions to meet practitioner’s security obligations, but optometrists need to consider what is right for them when choosing the best method to communicate with other clinicians.
‘Oculo is currently specific to the eye-care profession so the ability to communicate with GPs is restricted to sending an internet fax and it does not interact with existing GP and optometry software.
‘Integration of secure messaging into existing systems is essential in the seamless transfer of patient information,’ he said.
The platform was originally implemented across Australia in pre-existing referral network clusters but was rolled out nationally into 400 optometric practices in May. Oculo is also being trialled in rural tele-ophthalmology in Western Australia.
Optometrist Sarah Boneham of OPSM Castle Towers and Macquarie Centre says the biggest barrier to signing up was that not all ophthalmologists she regularly refers to have Oculo. In other words, it’s a feedback loop in need of more feedback.
‘It only becomes more valuable when more people sign up, because if you’re paying that much and you’re able to refer only 20 per cent of the time, it’s not so valuable,’ Boneham said.
The monthly outlay for Oculo is currently $99 per optometric practice and starts from $69 for each ophthalmologist.
Rajan Kholsa from Specsavers Woden has used Oculo since December 2015 and now sends 65 per cent of his referrals through the platform.
‘The data protect aspect is a big deal, because we know we have a legal obligation with patient data. I like that it’s instant so they’ll get it straight away and you know when they’ve seen it,’ he said.
‘As you get better at it, it’s a lot faster and saves time,’ Ms Boneham said. ‘Medico-legally, you feel really confident knowing that the referral has been accepted and you’ve done all in your power for your patient.’
In the ‘Ahead in the Clouds’ article that appeared on page 48 of the printed edition of Equipment 2016, the image used was not that of Rajan Kholsa, for which we apologise. The correct image is used in this online edition of the article. EDITOR