Australia has made a major stride towards a digital healthcare system today with state and territory health ministers approving the much-anticipated national digital health strategy.

Digital information is the bedrock of high quality healthcare, and the 2018-2022 strategy is designed to lower hospital admissions, adverse drug events and the duplication of tests, while promoting better coordinated care for people with chronic and complex conditions.

In a communique issued after the COAG health council meeting in Brisbane, the ministers said digital health would provide patients with choice and control.

“The strategy has identified the priority areas that form the basis of Australia’s vision for digital health. It will build on Australia’s existing leadership in digital health care and support consumers and clinicians to put the consumer at the centre of their health care and provide choice, control, and transparency.”

The strategy – Safe, seamless, and secure: evolving health and care to meet the needs of modern Australia - identifies seven priorities, including delivery of the opt-out My Health Record for all Australians by 2018.

Australian Digital Health Agency CEO Tim Kelsey welcomed COAG approval for the strategy.

“Today we face new health challenges and rapidly rising demand for services. It is imperative that we work together to harness the power of technology and foster innovation to support high quality, sustainable health and care for all, today and into the future,” Kelsey said.

More than five million Australians have a My Health Record, which provides potentially lifesaving access to clinical reports of medications, allergies, laboratory tests and chronic conditions.

The strategy will also lead to paper-free secure messaging for all clinicians and will set new standards to allow real-time sharing of patient information between hospitals and other care professionals.

Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon said secure exchange of clinical information will empower doctors to deliver improved patient care.

“Doctors need access to secure digital records. Having to wade through paperwork and chase individuals and organisations for information is archaic. The AMA has worked closely with the ADHA on the development of the new strategy and looks forward to close collaboration on its implementation,” Gannon said.

The strategy will see the development of new digital services to support the health of newborns, the elderly and people living with chronic disease. It will expedite the wider use of telehealth to improve access to services, especially in remote and rural Australia. It will also set standards for better information sharing between ambulances, hospitals and GPs in medical emergencies.

To protect patient confidentiality, the ADHA has established a Cyber Security Centre to ensure Australian healthcare is at the cutting edge of international data security.

The ADHA, which has responsibility for coordinating implementation of the strategy, will now consult with partners across the community to develop a framework for action to be published later this year.