Supporting Indigenous communities and bringing care closer to home through digital technologies is the focus of a new collaborative Digital Health CRC (DHCRC) project led by NT Health and Menzies School of Health Research.

The new three-year project will evaluate how existing and emerging technologies can best be deployed into remote Indigenous communities, working directly with comprehensive primary health care (CPHC) service providers. In addition to NT Health and Menzies, the project brings together a range of organisations including the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, the University of Sydney, Healthdirect Australia, and NT Primary Health Network (PHN).

The project focuses on how the uplift in use of technology as result of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on how care is delivered in remote communities.

Professor John Wakerman from Menzies explained that the unique study will accommodate consumer and provider preferences regarding virtual care and address the lack of knowledge on how to deploy digital tools to best support CPHC in remote Australia.

“While the project will draw on previous experience, it is focussed on needs and preferences identified by both consumers and health professionals, with a particular focus on integrating multiple professional groups working in remote CPHC,” Professor Wakerman said.

Dr Paul Burgess, Senior Specialist Public Health Physician, NT Health, explained the project will partner with local providers and consumers to develop informed virtual care models that meet the specific needs of remote communities in the NT.

“We are excited to bring care closer to home through virtual tools, helping to reduce travel and deliver improved outcomes for our patients in remote communities,” Dr Burgess said.

“The project will also be critical to understand how primary health care can optimise patient outcomes and sustainably deliver virtual strategies.”

Professor Tim Shaw from the University of Sydney explained that it is imperative that digital health innovation enhances rather than challenges equity of access to health, and health care for all.

“This project is vital in determining how digital health can improve access and equity for disadvantaged groups in Australia and avoid contributing to a new digital divide,” Professor Shaw said.

The project is supported by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, which will use the project’s health economic analysis outputs to directly inform policy and strategy at a national level. Existing digital health provider, Healthdirect Australia, will use the project’s early findings to optimise culturally safe and appropriate service workflows that can be implemented, particularly in video-based consultations.

Dr Clare Morgan, DHCRC Research Director, said the project can ensure equitable access to CPHC using digital technologies for all Australians, including those living in some of the most remote communities with some of the highest burden of disease.

“It is expected that improved uptake of digital health technologies within remote Indigenous communities will save patient time, lead to better models of care delivery and improve patient outcomes. Over time, through improved Primary Health Care, we expect this project to reduce demand on acute care.”

Understandings gained from this study will:

  • Help identify gaps in existing technologies, systems, and processes

  • Provide guidance on how to optimise existing tools and how they are deployed and configured

  • Identify and develop new technologies, as required, to support improved health outcomes

For more information on this important research project, you can contact one of the lead partner organisations at:

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