How to make digital health a viable solution in Australia

Holistic and integrated approaches to digital health

‘We’re all in this room because we share a common vision, putting to work digital enablement to help out patients. Yet there is still some work to be done - we’re not where we want to be yet.’

Tim Kelsey, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Digital Health Agency, kicked off his presentation by bluntly stating that digital health services in the country still have a way to go.

He stated at present, that 2 out of 3 hospital admissions there will be an error with medications, leading to more deaths from incorrect administering of medication than from traffic accidents.

To that end, he describes paper-based systems 'as ludicrous, but also dangerous’ and that ‘the solution ‘is so well established that we don’t have an excuse to ignore it.'

The response to this issue by state and federal governments has been ‘to draw a line in the sand and say, “we can no longer be dominated by the tyranny of the fax machine.”’ To ensure that Australia has a robust, agile and functioning digital health system, Kelsey said that two key priorities have been announced.

  1. Getting My Health Record on track
  2. The Development of the Digital Health Strategy

Tim Kelsey

My Health Record

Simply put, My Health Record is the national infrastructure that allows patients to control their own medical information and to decide with whom that information is shared. Its potential is such that the President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Michael Gannon has described it as ‘the future of medicine.’

Ultimately the national expansion program aims to give everyone a record by default - the exception being for those who choose to opt-out. Initial trials were run in rural Queensland and New South Wales. The outcome was ‘overwhelming support for a comprehensive shared record.’ The primary focus, Kelsey asserts, was ‘the quality of safety. The first thing you want to be assured of when you’ve been in an accident, for example, is that the clinician has access to your records. You want to see that your clinicians can prepare your care effectively.’ In fact the measure was so popular that only 1.9%-2% of those trialled opted out.

Kelsey also acknowledges that while there has been substantive support for the digital health platform, ‘there has been widespread and justified criticism.’ He said ‘While the principle is widely supported, the reality is that My Health Record isn’t where we want it to be yet.’

However, Kelsey is optimistic to the future of the project with a national expansion of the program, to be rolled out in 2018. Integral to its success is the ongoing collaboration with the community and with the tech industry. Kelsey also announced the creation of a developer engagement program called ‘Refresh’ which aimed to partner with healthcare, technology and research professionals who might be able to provide unique perspectives and industry knowledge.

The National Digital Health Strategy

The National Digital Health Strategy is the consensus on what the key priorities are for Australian digital healthcare. From the thousands of people consulted, 7 key priorities emerged, Kelsey describes them as ‘the core foundation that the community is telling us that they would like to see in a healthcare system that is safe, that is accurate and that works.’ The 7 key priorities are:

  1. My health information is available to me whenever and wherever it is needed
  2. My health information is secure and can be shared by me or my healthcare provider
  3. I, my carers, and my healthcare providers can use my healthcare information
  4. My prescriptions and medications are stored digitally and are used to improve my health
  5. I have more options and more choice for accessing my healthcare
  6. I feel confident using digital technologies to access and deliver healthcare
  7. It is faster and easier for me to develop and deliver health and care innovations

Journey to digital health 

While there is still work to be done Kelsey is optimistic about the direction of digital healthcare in Australia. ‘When established, these initiatives can ensure the safe care of those who are most vulnerable, who are most at risk.’

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