“Australia has one of the best, possibly the world’s best health service in terms of outcomes…but it could be so much better,” – Tim Kelsey, Australian Digital Health Agency Chief Executive Officer speaking about the importance of embracing digital health in all its forms.
When I recently interviewed Tim Kelsey for our Better health, together video series, it prompted me to think about how WA Primary Health Alliance is using digital health to shape, strengthen and sustain the WA health system to improve access to healthcare, particularly for those at risk of poor health outcomes.
Our efforts to improve digital health focus not only on how a patient’s information is securely gathered, stored and analysed, but also on new technologies that enable mental health and medical care to be accessed remotely online or over video-conferencing without the need to travel great distances.
Five of the ways we are working with partners to deliver better health, together using digital health tools are:
- Telehealth – increasing use of a secure system which enables patients to remotely access health professionals and educators via video-conferencing. This allows prevention education, diagnosis, treatment and early detection of deterioration. Focus has been on diabetes, chronic conditions and respiratory care.
- PORTS virtual mental health service – providing quality online and telephone support to those aged 16 and over, with symptoms of low mood, depression, stress, anxiety, or substance use problems. Run by experienced staff, including psychologists and psychiatrists and a GP liaison team.
- My Health Record – overseeing the expansion across WA of this Australian Government program, which allows an individual to keep a mobile, secure online summary of their key health information to be shared with health professionals if needed. This has included community engagement and health professional training and support.
- Data extraction service for GPs – offering a data extraction and analysis tool that can support general practices to easily access up-to-date data to better identify patient needs. It allows the addressing of local population health issues, identification of patients not meeting clinical targets, and patient recalls and reminders.
- HealthPathwaysWA – a free to access website to support GPs in their assessment, management and referral of patients, with 500 individual Pathways currently available. This enables a more seamless, effective and complete patient journey by combining clinical and referral information in one place.
Digital health is also a strong focus across key recommendations for system integration within the Western Australian Government’s Sustainable Health Review.
WA Primary Health Alliance has played a key role in facilitating the voice of primary care as part of that process.
The Sustainable Health Review is a blueprint for rebalancing WA’s health system over the next 10 years and ensuring it can be sustained for future generations. It recommends that by 2022, the majority of outpatient consultations for regional patients use telehealth services and by 2029, all health facilities should have a functional electronic medical record or equivalent.
We are also forming partnerships in country and metropolitan areas to provide locally accessible quality care, and digital health tools are making it easier to link services and identify regional priorities in mental and physical health.
Annually, we invest $56 million into critical mental health services and $45 million into a combination of other programs designed to address public health priorities.
This includes $4.2 million a year to support GPs, including providing data and online clinical decision-making support services. These help GPs highlight trends, keep watch over the changing needs of their local communities and make necessary adjustments to treatment and care.