In a healthcare system that values cutting-edge technology to diagnose, treat and manage conditions, consistent sharing of consumer health information remains an elusive target. Australia has key systems in place to enable and support standardisation and connected health systems, such as national healthcare identifiers, and continues to make progress as shown by the rapid national uptake of electronic prescribing which was accelerated by the challenging COVID environment.
Consumers want a connected healthcare system
Despite this, there is growing impatience among consumers and healthcare providers for a more connected healthcare system as the healthcare sector lags behind other industries in adopting digital technologies and standards that deliver seamless connectivity. In 2022, cancers can be treated with sophisticated biological medicines tailored to the genotype of the cancer in question and advanced surgical techniques have revolutionised how once major surgeries are carried out as minimally invasive interventions.
What hasn’t changed is the way consumer health information is shared through the health system — still to a large extent by paper, with inadequate and inconsistent presentation of the information required to safely manage consumer’s information.
Connected care and consumer experience
Consumers have told us that repeating their story for every new clinician reduces the trust that they have in the system and alters their perception of their healthcare experience. Disparate systems within health services often have limited integration. So, while demographic information may flow seamlessly throughout the health service environment, clinical information may be siloed in different systems, such as oncology, acute care clinical information systems and outpatient systems.
Worse, when a consumer has multiple healthcare providers, printed summary information from one system needs to be transcribed into the next system. Transcription or manual entry of incomplete data is often the only means of clinical information system integration and fraught with potential sources of error.
Building the connected system Australians want
The Connecting Australian Health Care — National Healthcare Interoperability Plan (the Plan) aims to accelerate the digital transformation of healthcare delivery in a first-of-a-kind, nationally agreed and coordinated effort. A connected healthcare system benefits all participants by providing consumers with access to their health information when and where they want or need it and aligns to the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights (second edition). A connected healthcare system supports clinicians and care team members by ensuring those appropriately authorised have access to contemporary and historical clinical information to guide decision-making and potentially reduce duplication and waste.
The Plan includes 10 principles, five priority areas and 44 actions to progress over the next five years. The actions were developed in broad consultation with stakeholders across the health and care sectors. The Australian Digital Health Agency (the Agency) will lead and coordinate the implementation of the Plan. With access to leading health and technical experts the Agency is ideally placed to ensure the objectives of the plan are delivered.
The Plan will address inequality through inclusivity, with a national push towards ensuring that Australians of all ages, locations and cultural backgrounds are supported to access healthcare and health information. This will be done through digital health approaches that meet their needs — including that digital health works effectively to help ‘close the gap’ in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians.
The Agency is currently stewarding the Plan through the intergovernmental approval process and will publish the Plan on the Agency’s website once approved. In the meantime work has commenced on key fundamental building blocks for connecting healthcare, including:
- Implementing a Healthcare Identifiers Roadmap to increase the adoption, ensuring consumers and providers are identified accurately.
- Publishing the first edition of a National Catalogue for Digital Health Standards that will provide a single point of information to support the use of digital health standards for software developers and health information managers.
- Developing guidelines for decision-makers that highlight the importance of digital health standards when making investment decisions for information and communications technology in our health services — support materials will make it easy to incorporate these guidelines into tender requirements ensuring new systems are purchased with connectivity to the health system in mind.
- Developing a healthcare connectivity toolkit and educational materials that build capability and capacity in Australian healthcare workers, managers and software developers.
- Conducting a baseline survey of interoperability in a range of healthcare settings that will support ongoing measurement of our progress.
Everyone can contribute to connecting Australian healthcare
Health service staff can help the implemenation of the Plan in a number of ways. Promoting the point of care collection of healthcare identifiers to complete patient profiles in clinical information systems is one easy action that can be done from today. Influencing colleagues to ensure high-quality discharge summaries are issued to consumers as they leave the healthcare service and simultaneously sent to the consumer’s My Health Record is another.
There is a role for everyone involved in health care in Australia to achieve the target state where consumer health information can be shared safely, securely and seamlessly across the consumer healthcare journey.