What does the future hold for digital health?

No one could have predicted a year like last year. But amongst all the challenges was the opportunity to create meaningful change for the future.

Australia’s healthcare sector saw unprecedented acceleration in the uptake and acceptance of digital health technology. In the same way that technology has transformed how we access services like banking, airline travel and retail, digital health technology is now transforming how Australia delivers safe, world-leading and accessible health services for all. 

Critical initiatives to improve coordinated and virtual care for Australians

Better use of data and technology is helping people live healthier lives. Every day more healthcare providers, carers and patients are benefiting from digital health services like telehealth and electronic prescriptions, and we now have greater control of and access to important health information through digital health infrastructure such as the My Health Record.

Digital health technology played a key role in improving connected care and helping people to stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, over 52 million telehealth services have been delivered to 13 million Australians, meaning more people in more places now have convenient access to healthcare. With the right safeguards in place, telehealth is a vital tool in a broad-based system that can deliver improved accessibility, quality, safety and efficiency for Australians. It also assists those who may not want to leave home to attend appointments and gives people more time and space – which was particularly important during the pandemic – to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Also during the pandemic, the use of electronic prescriptions – a digital version of prescriptions that healthcare providers can send to a patient as an SMS or email – accelerated exponentially. Electronic prescribing was rolled out rapidly in 2020 to support Australia’s COVID-19 response. Now, less than a year later, over 5.5 million electronic prescriptions and repeats have been generated by prescribers and dispensers, and one-third of all GPs across Australia have issued one. 

It’s not just new innovations that are filling a gap in Australia’s healthcare system – foundational digital infrastructure such as My Health Record has been an integral part of Australia’s COVID-19 response. It’s a safe and secure place where key healthcare information, including vaccination information, can be kept, accessed or viewed at any time.

… apps put health information in the palm of your hand…

With almost 23 million people having a record, we are continuing to improve its functionality to meet the ever-changing healthcare needs of Australians and to ensure it grows as a trusted, vital tool for everyone.

Apart from being able to access your health information in My Health Record through myGov using a computer or mobile, it can also be viewed through free secure apps. The Healthi and HealthNow apps put health information in the palm of your hand – including your immunisation history, which will become more important as the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out across Australia.

Achieving the digital health vision, an opportunity to have your say

Better patient healthcare and health outcomes are possible when you have a health infrastructure that can be safely accessed, easily used and responsibly shared. 

To achieve this, Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy was formed in 2017 following detailed consultations with patients, consumers, carers, healthcare professionals, industry, organisations and innovators. It’s based on evidence of clinical and economic benefits identified from sources both in Australia and overseas.

This strategy has established the foundations for a sustainable health system that constantly improves and the outcomes will be delivered to all Australians by 2022.

The development of the next National Digital Health Strategy is now underway. At the recent CHF Shifting Gears virtual summit, the Agency facilitated a workshop where a digital storyteller captured consumer views to help inform the future direction of digital health for Australia.

Some of the key themes that emerged from the workshop were:  patient choice and centricity; accessibility; privacy and security; and improved use of digital records in specialists and emergency service settings to provide a more holistic view.

These valuable contributions will help inform the development of the next strategy and further opportunities for consultation will continue throughout 2021. To find out more about digital health go to digitalhealth.gov.au.

About the author

Portrait of the authorAmanda Cattermole PSM is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Digital Health Agency, a role she commenced in September 2020. Previously Amanda was the Chief Operating Officer at Services Australia (formerly the Department of Human Services), serving as interim Chief Executive Officer during the 2019/20 bushfires season. She has held other senior roles at Services Australia and in the Commonwealth Departments of Treasury, Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. In her earlier career, Amanda worked as a lawyer in Victoria, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Amanda holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Commerce, a Master of Laws and a Master of Business Administration. She received the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service leading reform in providing housing for Indigenous people in remote communities and the National Gambling Reform laws.