Why I’m behind digital health

Watch the National Digital Health Consultation: Findings so far to hear what Australian communities are saying about the future of health and care.

“Can you give me a call when you’re free, love mum.”

The message flashed up on my phone and my heart dropped. I knew something was up. My mum’s attempts at ‘text speak’ usually end up with half a screen of rambled shortcuts that I need to look up urban dictionary to decipher. This, on the other hand, was too short for comfort.

I quickly made my excuses and rushed out of the conference I was in and gave her a call. My mother had shattered her shoulder and was in hospital waiting to find out what would happen. The kicker though, she was alone, and in New York.

My mum had dreamed of visiting New York her whole life and now that she had semi-retired she ventured off on the trip of a lifetime to see the Big Apple only to end up slipping on the stairs of her hotel and ending up in hospital.

Thus began a frustrating, challenging few days trying to figure out if she was safe to fly, how to get her home to New Zealand and how to get her medical records.

Thirty minutes on hold to the reception at Langone hospital in New York to then be told no you need to speak to the records department, who finish work at 2pm, which happens to be 6am in Australia…. Call back the next day to be told please write us a letter and sign it and mail it to this address and pay $125USD and we’ll send you the X-rays in two weeks. Oh you want them sent overseas? We don’t do that…. And don’t get me started on trying to deal with the insurance company….

There’s nothing more important than our health and the health of those we care about. I’m sure most of us have stories of frustration navigating the health system. It was in fact due to my own experience as a patient that I started to get involved in digital health back in the early days of the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).

In both Australia and the UK I worked in various digital roles for companies such as Accenture, T-Mobile and MTV. At MTV I was the Director of Mobile, which when I started was mostly focused on ringtones and voting via SMS, but we could see the shift was starting as the iPod came out in 2001 and consumer behaviour started to adapt as the internet became mainstream and people chose to undertake tasks online such as banking, booking travel, being entertained and even finding love.

I was lucky enough to work with some incredible people who instilled in me the ways of design thinking, understanding user needs and not being afraid to ask ‘why not?’ and try new things. My team developed the world first made for mobile TV channel and a range of new multiplatform solutions for various shows such as the MTV awards, Jackass and the Osbournes.

So when I got sick and had my first interactions with the health system I found it difficult to understand why all this brilliant technology and innovation was being used by the commercial sector to improve service delivery and provide new opportunities for growth, yet in health it didn’t seem to be the case.

What a fantastic opportunity to make life better for people at a time when they really need it!

This was one of the big drivers for me to get into digital health, and it still motivates me today, how do we utilise technology to better understand the needs of our stakeholders, improve workflows, design better systems and make data driven decisions that create better health outcomes for all Australians.

Being part of the Australia Digital Health Agency, working with smart people who care about making a difference and who choose to see the challenges as opportunities to make things better. That’s something I’m immensely proud to be part of.

You too can have your say. Whether you’re a patient, a member of the public, a healthcare provider, scientist or researcher, entrepreneur or technology innovator. Tell us what is important to you so that what we do is shaped around what you need conversation.digitalhealth.gov.au/

Rachel De Sain is the Agency’s Executive General Manager, Innovation and Development