Digital health promises to transform healthcare in Australia. The development of the appropriate digital infrastructure will allow clinicians to access their patient’s medical history, whether they’re in Ascot or Arnhem Land, reduce the number of ineffective treatments, and by collecting the effectiveness of clinical interventions, ensure that Australian patients are getting the best possible treatment for them. Together these features promise to reduce costs and improve care.
There has been significant work in building the digital infrastructure to make this possible. Many of the states have announced clear visions for a digitally enabled future, and My Health Record has evolved to become a safe and secure foundation for this work at a national level. Australia is poised to take advantage of this revolution in healthcare, however, in order to realise the full potential of digital health, we must ensure we address three significant issues that have the potential to de-rail digital health in Australia.
1. Interoperability – we must ensure that the health data from one provider is in a format that other providers and researchers can securely access. Without a strong commitment to the interoperability of healthcare data, our investment in digital health risks creating silos of vitally important information that cannot be accessed outside the healthcare system of origin.
2. Engaging healthcare providers – currently many healthcare providers see little value in uploading an individual’s healthcare information to My Health Record. Even when directly asked, many will refuse and instead upload this information into private applications that are not visible to the wider healthcare system. This approach deprives the Australian public of a potentially invaluable resource. We must engage providers now and ensure that the information they are collecting is securely available to the wider healthcare system.
3. Trust – For digital health to succeed in Australia, we must win the trust of Australians. Despite being launched in 2016, many Australians are still sceptical of the benefits of digital health, and the security of their information in My Health Record. For Australian healthcare consumers to benefit from the advances of digital health, Australians must be able to trust that their healthcare information is safe, and that there are severe penalties for anyone accessing their private data without consent.
The clinical benefits of digital health have tremendous potential for Australia. If we are able to address these issues, we will be closer to realising this potential, and improving outcomes for Australians.