Chronic care, residential aged care, emergency care and end of life care have been identified as areas of greatest need for digital innovation in a new report, with recommendations for digital health test beds that will drive tech uptake.

Going Digital - to deliver a healthier Australia, produced by The George Institute for Global Health and Consumers Health Forum of Australia with the support of the ADHA, recommends the development of a number of technologies to improve care, including an emergencies platform leveraging My Health Record data, and a residential care facility comparison site using data on health outcomes and patient experiences.

CEO of the Consumers Health Forum Leanne Wells said the time is now ripe to leverage Australia’s maturing digital health capacity in ways that are meaningful to consumers and providers.

“Digital disruption is not coming in health care – it is already here. For too long health has been lagging behind other sectors,” Wells said.

Embracing digital health will require national leadership, she said, and stronger and coordinated direction from the federal, state and territory governments to transform the health system and bring about rapid enhancements in quality, safety, accessibility and efficiency.

“We need to invest in implementation and change management to avoid the risks and pitfalls that can accompany the rollout of such powerful technology into a complex and sensitive area like health care.”

The Going Digital report has identified practical steps that can be rolled out rapidly to improve healthcare but, according to The George Institute’s director of health systems science Professor David Peiris, the challenge is to ensure they are adopted.

“Our report sets out clear recommendations on what is needed to enable people to be much more in control of their own health needs and to make informed choices about the care they choose – from urgent life-saving situations through to respecting their wishes at the end their life,” Peiris said.

“We also want to ensure that every health professional in Australia can take full advantage of the digital health ecosystem to improve people’s healthcare experience and provide care that can be coordinated across the system. Many Australians are tired of having to constantly repeat their story to multiple care providers and it’s vital that we tap into digital technology to ensure we deliver a more person-centred, safer and sustainable healthcare system.”

The ADHA’s National Digital Health Strategy called for six digital health test bed projects, each of two years duration, to be launched by 2022.

In May, the ADHA issued a call for proposals for innovative test beds that can be rigorously reviewed and then nationally, offering up to $600,000 of funding for each test bed. The revised deadline for expressions of interest is on Friday.

The Going Digital report says test beds provide a real world setting in which to assess the performance of a new initiative under normal working conditions.

“Test beds are increasingly used to trial innovations in the health care sector as they allow us to evaluate both integration and impact within the existing working practices and systems of our health services,” the report says.

Digital health has great potential to strengthen health systems by improving the interface between health care sectors – home and self-care, primary and ambulatory, hospital, palliative and residential aged care settings – and supporting people to transition smoothly between sectors.

“For consumers, a significant opportunity is to strengthen individual agency and activation so that they are involved in health care more as partners than as passive recipients of care,” it says.

The recommendations focus on four of the ADHA’s proposed test bed areas, which are identified as being the least developed in terms of digitally enabled models of care: chronic care, residential aged care, emergency care and end of life care. The remaining two proposed test beds are for telehealth and child health.

In chronic care, Going Digital recommends the trial of virtual care teams to support patients with high care needs, and the trial of a “Patients Like Me” platform to enable patients with chronic and complex care needs to safely connect and share experiences with one another.

It recommends that aged care residents’ health and social services information be made available to consumers and providers via their devices. Patients, their carers and future consumers could also be able to compare residential care facilities based on health outcomes and patient experiences through collated and publicised data.

In emergency care, digital health technologies that leverage My Health Record are recommended to allow data to be rapidly accessible to paramedics and other emergency providers. A messaging system could also improve communication between emergency care and other medical teams, and assist with referrals to other health care providers for post-discharge care.

In end of life care, the report supports the development of existing professional and consumer portals that provide information on care options, medical services and pathways for those nearing the end of their lives. Targeted social media campaigns are proposed as a way of encouraging consumers and medical professionals to normalise conversations about death.

The report says it is essential that detailed evaluations be conducted for each of the test beds to assess their safety, impact, and acceptability to consumers, providers and organisations.

This, it says, “will enable active refinement and adaptation of the test bed models of care throughout the implementation process and support broader adoption and sustainability of successful digital health care models.”

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