The COVID-19 epidemic has impacted many lives all around the world and the Australian government has ramped up its efforts to deal with it. In the recent HIMSS webinar, “92 days in a pandemic”, hosted by Tim Kelsey (Senior Vice President of HIMSS), with speakers Chris Mitchell (Executive Director of Information Communications, Hunter New England) and Paul Craven (Executive Direction of Young People and Families, Hunter New England), they shed light on the strategies which have been planned and implemented thus far. 
 
Hunter New England Local Health District (LHD) provides a range of public health services to the Hunter, New England and Lower Mid North Coast regions in New South Wales, Australia.
 
Why is this so important?
 
Prior to COVID-19, the healthcare system in Australia had already recognised the importance of digital health. This has provided great aid to the nation in its battle against the virus as reflected by the now flattening of the curve reflecting the number of corona virus cases within the country. However, the Australian government continues to remain vigilant with its efforts as extensive mass screenings have been conducted and the adoption of telehealth services continues to become more ubiquitous. 
 
Mitchell and his team devised a strategy centred around infection prevention and control to deal with the highly virulent and contagious nature of the virus. This strategy comprises of five key components as part of Australia’s digital health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Screening and the case definition
Data and insights
Telehealth and clinical education
Scale the systems
Uninterrupted operations
 
Mass screenings and extensive testing in local health districts are conducted on patients who display any form of respiratory symptoms or a fever in order to ensure that the patients diagnosed with the virus are swiftly quarantined to eliminate any possibilities of it spreading to other individuals. Geographical maps were also drawn out to map patients across districts to determine if there were any clusters of individuals with the virus before conducting mass screening in those clusters. Both medical as well as mental support is then provided to patients inflicted with COVID-19. 
 
A COVID-care home service was set up where a team of professionals would make daily contact with these patients in their own homes either via phone calls, video conferences or visited by the homecare team to prevent the overwhelming of healthcare resources in hospitals. Only patients with deteriorating health conditions would then be sent to hospitals where intensive care would be provided to them.
 
Patients positively diagnosed with the virus are kept at home so that they would not enter the healthcare system and detailed contact tracing would be conducted. Tight checks are also maintained on Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) and their movements within the entire healthcare ecosystem in order to determine the quantity required at each healthcare facility within the country. This has effectively served to help prevent the shortage of PPEs within healthcare system which numerous other nations have faced. 
 
On the record
 
“We developed a screening tool to automatically screen our patients via SMS”, says Mitchell. This helped to greatly reduce the effort needed by healthcare professionals to screen each and every patient before they were sent to a medical facility, adding to the efficiency of the system.
He also added that “telehealth obviously went nuts in this time”, as the requests for telehealth services over Skype and Scorpia surged. The public was also educated on how to use such technology appropriately as well as determining when it was clinically appropriate to use it. 
 
The full recording is available here (registration required).
 

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