Digital Health

Digital health is driving major change in health systems and in our community. It is challenging how we plan, organise and participate in healthcare and care for people at the end of life.

The World Health Organization has defined eHealth as the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for health. It has also created a Classification of digital health interventions v1.0 which is a shared language to describe the uses of digital technology for health. The schema has four overarching groupings reflecting the needs and uses of the targeted primary user group. Namely:

  • Interventions for clients where they are members of the public using or potentially using health services, including health promotion activities. This group also includes carers.
  • Interventions for healthcare providers who deliver health services.
  • Interventions for health system or resource managers who are involved in the administration and oversight of public health systems. This includes managerial type functions such as supply chain management, health financing, human resource management.
  • Interventions for data services which covers crosscutting functionality to support a wide range of activities including data collection, management, use, and exchange.

This classification schema helps organise all the different types of technology research, business development and commercial applications as they affect health. It helps researchers, industry and the general public understand the range of activity and impacts of digital health.

Australia's Digital Health Future

The Australian Digital Health Strategy recognises that continuing to improve health and health outcomes will need safe, seamless, secure digital health services and new technologies, approaches and applications that result in innovative, easy to use tools for both patients and providers. Seven priorities (2.09MB pdf) have been identified and are being pursued:

Source: Australian Digital Health Agency

  • My Health Record so health information is available whenever and wherever it is needed.
  • Secure Messaging so health information can be exchanged securely.
  • Interoperability and Data Quality so we can collect and share high-quality data with a commonly understood meaning
  • Medicines Safety enabling better availability and access to prescriptions and medicines information.
  • Digitally Enhanced Models of Care enabling and supporting improved accessibility, quality, safety and efficiency.
  • Workforce and Education so that those who provide care can confidently use digital health technologies to deliver health and care.
  • Innovation Focus to drive a thriving digital health industry delivering world-class innovations.

What do consumers want?

An expert roundtable in 2018 looked at consumer priorities in developing digitally enabled models of care to improve accessibility, quality, safety and efficiency in Australia. The Going Digital Report (2.2MB pdf) identified a set of recommendations for several health priorities:

In chronic care:

To trial virtual care teams to support patients with high care needs; and trial a 'Patients Like Me' platform to enable patients with chronic and complex care needs to safely connect and share experiences with one another.

In residential aged care:

Ensure that residents’ health and social services information is available in a single location, on a platform easily accessible by consumers and providers anywhere, anytime and on any device. Collate and publicise data that allows patients, their carers and future consumers to compare residential care facilities based on health outcomes and patient experiences.

In emergency care:

Develop digital health technologies that leverage My Health Record data to be rapidly accessible to paramedics and other emergency providers; develop a text/image message system to support improved 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:

Develop and promote existing professional and consumer portals that provider information on care options, medical services and pathways for those nearing end of life; and engage in targeted social media campaigns to encourage consumers and medical professionals to normalise conversations about death.

There is an increasing use of technology in palliative care and in care provision at the end of life. These technologies include a range of commonly used technologies such as videoconferencing, emails, SMS and web resources. These resources have been used in research studies but increasingly are being used as part of usual care. There are also an increasing number of apps that are relevant to palliative care such as the palliAGEDgp app (soon to be replaced by the CareSearchgp App), or the MyGrief app.

Telehealth changes initiated in response to COVID-19 are likely to increase their use in patients with life-limiting illnesses in community, aged care and acute settings. Digital technologies are also being used to explore palliative care datasets, develop predictive algorithms and support remote monitoring of community based patients. There is an urgent need to build digital health capability in the palliative care community.

Telehealth and  COVID-19

COVID-19 has had a major impact on how service are being provided for those with COVID-19 and for health consumers whose care is being indirectly impacted by COVID-19. As part of the national response to COVID-19, the Federal Government expanded Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians to reduce potential infection spread and to facilitate consumer care at home and in other care settings. Medicare item numbers for telehealth are temporarily in place for GPs, specialists and many other health professionals, allowing them to bill for phone and video consultations. Covid19 has also seen a rapid response in terms of systems adaptions to enable telehealth provision

The last few months have also seen a rapid proliferation of COVID-19apps. Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation looked at COVID-oriented applications visible in the Australian marketplace by scanning the Apple App Store and Google Play. A total of 116 applications using the key terms ’COVID’ or ’coronavirus’ were found. Checking against an app assessment framework, they were able to identify two apps with utility for the Australian market. They are:

Finding out more

Read some of our Palliative Perspectives blogs related to digital health:

  1. World Health Organization (WHO). eHealth [Internet]. Geneva (GH): WHO; 2020 [cited 2020 May 11].
  2. World Health Organization (WHO). Classification of digital health interventions v1.0. Geneva (CH): WHO; 2018.
  3. Australian Digital Health Agency. Australia's National Digital Health Strategy - Safe, Seamless and Secure [Internet]. Sydney: Australian Digital Health Agency; 2018 [cited 2020 May 12].
  4. Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) and The George Institute for Global Health. Going digital to deliver a healthier Australia: A health policy report (2.14MB pdf). Canberra: CHF; 2018 Jun 13.
  5. Department of Health. COVID-19 Temporary MBS Telehealth Services [Internet]. Canberra: Department of Health; 2020 [cited 2020 May 12].
  6. Hensher M. Making sense of COVID-19 health apps [Internet]. Burwood (AU): Deakin University Institute for Health Transformation. 2020 Apr 28 [cited 2020 May 12].

Last updated 21 December 2022