A digital health system could save Australian lives

There are calls for the Government to take digital health records seriously. Source: Getty

A report released earlier this week has found an array of people around Australia receiving chronic care, residential aged care, emergency care and end of life care could greatly benefit from a digital health system.

The George Institute for Global Health and Consumers Health Forum of Australia released the Going Digital – to deliver a healthier Australia report and found major progress has already been made when it comes to digital health services including the My Health Record, e-prescriptions, patient registries, shared care portals, state-based digital strategies and linked hospital patient information systems. After a roundtable, experts said now is the time for Australia’s health industry to embrace and support the development and expansion of digital health technology.

Professor David Peiris, Director of Health Systems Science at The George Institute, told Starts at 60 the development is simply taking advantage of digital medical and health information that is already available, but not yet connected to one another.

“In terms of the ability for digital health to make health care higher quality and safer, that’s the real promise of digital health,” he said. “For example, with medication management, you have information sitting in a hospital system, in an aged care facility, with the GP. Those silos of information are not connected in any way and that’s a recipe for disaster for an older person on lots of medications, to not have a consistent record there. These are the sorts of things a digital record can potentially overcome.”

Dr Peiris explained there is a high error rate when it comes to patients being discharged from hospital and receiving the recommended medication. He notes this causes adverse reactions, rehospitalisation or even serious consequences such as disability or death and that a digital health record could prevent.

At present, every Australian is automatically being given a digital My Health Record – an online summary of personal health information, uploaded by care providers – this year, unless they choose to opt out. The purpose of the record is to make it easier for doctors to keep track of your health information in one place and make it simpler for them to share your information with other healthcare providers. The aim of the roundtable was to further expand on the availability of digital information, with several recommendations being made.

Read more: Limited window to opt out of government digital health records

For chronic care, there are calls to trial virtual care teams that will support patients with high care needs, as well as a special platform that lets patients with complex care needs safely connect and share experiences with others in similar positions.

In terms of residential aged care, it is hoped health and social services information will soon be available in one digital location that can be accessed easily and on any device. For emergency care, there are calls for the My Health Record to be expanded to paramedics and other emergency providers, which would improve communication between medical teams.

For end of life care, the recommendation is for existing portals to be developed further and to normalise the conversations around death.

Dr Peiris told Starts at 60 the request for proposals are out now by the government, with a hope of being implemented within the next four years. To get prepared for these digital changes, he said people should register their details on myGov to see what information is already being stored as part of their My Health Record.

“Get in there, have a look and see what it currently offers,” he said. “People who are receiving or are eligible for aged-care services can also register with the My Aged Care Portal, which is also available on myGov.

“Get some awareness of what’s currently here, but also ‘watch this space’. I think we’re going to start seeing much more useful apps and products and services coming in the next few years that are really going to make a much tangible difference to peoples’ lives.”

What do you think? Are you happy that medical information is being stored digitally? Do you think it would make things easier?

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