For too long health has been lagging behind other sectors, says consumer advocate

In March this year, The George Institute for Global Health and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, with the support of the Australian Digital Health Agency, convened a policy roundtable with 40 key stakeholders including consumer advocates, healthcare providers, clinicians, academics, industry, government and policy experts from across Australia.

The purpose of the roundtable was to formulate independent recommendations on the implementation of Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy.

During their discussion, roundtable attendees considered chronic care, residential aged care, emergency care and end-of-life care in the context of digital health, with the results placed in a report that was published this week.

The report, called ‘Going digital to deliver a healthier Australia’, says major progress is being made with My Health Record, e-prescriptions, patient registries, shared care portals, state-based digital health strategies, and linked hospital patient information systems.

“Digital disruption is not coming in health care – it is already here. For too long health has been lagging behind other sectors,” said CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells.

“It would be good news for consumers to bring health into the 21st century, but we need to be mindful that people have differing levels of health literacy and some will need support to embrace a digital health future or we risk inequities of access and knowledge.

“We need to invest in implementation and change management to avoid the risks and pitfalls that can accompany the roll-out of such powerful technology into a complex and sensitive area like health care,” Ms Wells said.

Professor David Peiris, Director of Health Systems Science at The George Institute, said they want to ensure that every health professional in Australia can take full advantage of the digital health eco-system to improve people’s healthcare experience.

“Many Australians are tired of having to constantly repeat their story to multiple care providers and it’s vital that we tap into digital technology to ensure we deliver a more person-centred, safer and sustainable healthcare system,” said Professor Peiris.

“Our report sets out clear recommendations on what is needed to enable people to be much more in control of their own health needs and to make informed choices about the care they choose – from urgent life-saving situations through to respecting their wishes at the end their life.

“Australia has made a great start in its uptake of digital health technology and we have identified practical steps in several areas that could be rolled out rapidly. The challenge now is to ensure they are adopted.”

The recommendations identified by the roundtable included:

In chronic care:

  • To trial virtual care teams to support patients with high care needs.
  • To trial a “Patients Like Me” platform to enable patients with chronic and complex care needs to safely connect and share experiences with one another.

In residential aged care:

  • Ensure that residents’ health and social services information is available in a single location, on a platform easily accessible by consumers and providers anywhere, anytime and on any device.
  • Collate and publicise data that allows patients, their carers and future consumers to compare residential care facilities based on health outcomes and patient experiences.

In emergency care:

  • Develop digital health technologies that leverage My Health Record data to be rapidly accessible to paramedics and other emergency providers.
  • Develop a text/image message system to support improved communication between emergency care and other medical teams and assist with referrals to other health care providers for post-discharge care.

In end-of-life care:

  • Develop and promote existing professional and consumer portals that provider information on care options, medical services and pathways for those nearing end of life.
  • Engage in targeted social media campaigns to encourage consumers and medical professionals to normalise conversations about death.

Read the full report here