Child Immunisation and Digital Health

The week before Christmas 2016, with temperatures peaking at 43 degrees, I travelled with our CEO, Tim Kelsey and Chief Medical Adviser, Clinical Professor Meredith Makeham to Perth, Bunbury and Busselton in Western Australia.

The trip was part of our national conversation with the Australian people about digital health; how we can best shape it around Australia's needs, wants and aspirations. This conversation is part of a larger consultation activity as we work towards co-producing a National Digital Health Strategy for the Australian Government.

All up, we talked to around 100 people across the WA health sector. Many subjects were raised and discussed, including the important subject of child immunisation.

Dianne Ritson, Regional Manager, and Jo Moore, Director Population Health, both from Country WA Primary Health Network, introduced us to Sandra who had a fantastic story about how the My Health Record helped her as a busy parent. Sandra took her 4-year-old daughter, Eliza, to the Bunbury Community Health Centre for a vaccination. But on the day of the visit, the health centre's IT system was down. Fortunately, Sandra had set up a My Health Record for Eliza, and she was able to access her daughter's immunisation* information on her phone and Eliza could receive the correct vaccination immediately without issue.

Without the My Health Record, Sandra would have had to come back to the centre another day and prime Eliza for her vaccination all over again. "It was really important that we did it that day," Sandra said, echoing the sentiment of parents everywhere.

Sandra told us, "I registered myself for the My Health Record, I like to do everything on my phone. It was quick and easy to access the record, really convenient."

It was great to see the digital health service working exactly as it should, providing patient information when needed and facilitating effective treatment, in this case with a child.

As Tim told the WA Primary Health Alliance community, "This is a good example of how the healthcare experience can be improved really quite easily, and how it improves the convenience for parents and children. The other end of the spectrum is that if clinicians have this information in an emergency, they'll know pertinent information about vaccinations, allergies and current medications to improve treatment."

While national vaccination rates have been increasing overall in recent years, the National Health Performance Authority data shows 9.1 per cent Australian children were not fully immunised in 2014-15. This is despite the Australian Chief Medical Officer and all state and territory chief health officers agreed target of 95 per cent coverage. Immunisation helps protect individuals and the community generally against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, polio, tetanus and whooping cough.

Over the past few months, the Australian Digital Health Agency has spoken to over 2,500 people in forums – including patients and the public, carers, healthcare providers, researchers, entrepeuners and technology innovators – who generally supported incorporating immunisation information in the My Health Record system. Comments included:

  • "I want to be able to log-in to a digital health system and identify the frequency with which I have got my vaccinations."

  • "I'm trying to keep track of my kids' vaccinations as best I can, but it'd be great if I had electronic ones which I could access from home. When I have to fill in forms for day care or school asking when their vaccinations were, I can never remember – even though I know they're up-to-date".

  • "I'd like to be able to log into a website to view my vaccination records; which ones I've had and when they were; when boosters are due. This information could sit alongside the rest of my medical history, current health issues and medications, any specialists I've seen – so I can show them quickly and easily to new specialists, or if I'm ever in hospital".

  • "At my last GP visit, I got vaccinated for overseas travel. The GP referred to the My Health Record to find out which vaccinations I had in the past, and then worked out what I needed".

  • "I was able to get my kids' immunisation records quite easily and submit them to school. I think the school should have this access without my intervention – it'll make their jobs easier".

With nearly 4.5 million people across the nation registered for the My Health Record, we are focussed on including more useful information for parents, supporting children's health and treatment.

The Australian Digital Health Agency is running a comprehensive, nationwide consultation to develop the National Digital Health Strategy. We'll be collecting your feedback and responses until 31 January 2017.

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  • Immunisation data accessed via the My Health Record is sourced from the Australian Immunisation Register, a national register that records vaccinations given to people of all ages in Australia.

Robyn Lowe, Communications Program Manager