Australian Digital Health Agency celebrates its second anniversary

We now stand at the cusp of a national transformation of the delivery of health and care.

As we reach the second year of the Agency’s operations, we have the opportunity to reflect not just on the year that passed, but also on the ways in which this still new Agency is rapidly maturing. Our first year was the year in which we helped to build new momentum in digital health, and our second is the year in which we stand at the cusp of a national transformation of the delivery of health and care.

A strategy for all Australians

The vision guiding this transformation is laid out in the National Digital Health Strategy, which was approved by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council in August. In the communique that followed their meeting, the Health Ministers noted:

“This Strategy will build on Australia’s existing leadership in digital health care and support consumers and clinicians to put the consumer at the centre of their health care and provide choice, control and transparency.”

The strategy has been welcomed by Australia’s digital health community following its release, a testimony to the open and thorough consultation process that led to its development. It truly is a digital health strategy for Australia, not just the Agency.

Guiding the implementation of the strategy

The process of engagement and co-design that governed the development of the strategy has also shaped the Framework for Action, which describes the implementation of the vision laid out in the National Digital Health Strategy. This framework aligns to strategic national health reform priorities and investments across Australia, highlights current and planned activities, and can be used to identify role gaps that will need to be addressed. It was officially launched in July 2018.

Agency milestones and achievements

Other milestones and achievements of the Agency during this year include:

  • Delivering our annual Agency work plan, securing a four year Inter Governmental Agreement (2018-22) to support implementation of the National Digital Health Strategy, and operating national infrastructure (the HI Service, NASH, Clinical Terminology) to a very high standard of reliability.

  • Bipartisan support for the Federal Government announcement for the opt-out process for the national digital health record system. Digital health could deliver tangible health care improvements and save the health system up to $7 billion a year by avoiding diagnosis, treatment and prescription errors.

  • The Agency’s Board has established six advisory committees, whose members include many of the country’s most distinguished clinical and digital health leaders. The Agency has also established a number of steering groups, drawing on clinical, industry and consumer expertise, to oversee design and delivery of key services.

  • Achieving a milestone agreement with industry, jurisdiction and clinical partners to a national secure messaging scheme which will mean that all registered health practitioners will have access to reliable digital tools to share clinical correspondence – and end their dependency on the fax machine.

  • Reaching agreement with the main public and private providers of clinical information to upload into My Health Record. The two largest private pathology services are now connected and actively uploading; more than 50% of community pharmacists are registered; all States and Territories are connected – or will be by 2019.

  • Delivering partnerships with consumer and clinical leaders – including the RACGP, AMA, Pharmacy Guild, PSA and the Consumer Health Forum - to support My Health Record education and training nationwide, and mobilising 31 PHNs and numerous community organisations to support the expansion program and public communications.

  • Establishing a comprehensive digital health benefits measurement program which will capture data on the impact of national investment over the coming years.

  • Releasing the National Requirements for Electronic Prescriptions.

  • Successful deployment of Releases 9.1 and 9.2 of the My Health Record including operational improvements for providers and consumers.

  • Launching a developer program that supports innovators to safely and securely connect to the My Health Record.

  • Supporting a diverse, high performing team to deliver and develop.

Global Digital Health Partnership

Australia is by no means alone in its exploration of the benefits of digital health technologies. Other nations and healthcare organisations are turning to digital health technologies to address ageing populations and other challenges, while improving safety, convenience and overall efficiency. In recognition of these shared challenges, the Agency has taken the initiative of establishing the Global Digital Health Partnership (GDHP), a forum that brings together the US, UK, Canada, Austria, Italy, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Indonesia, Sweden and the World Health Organization to develop international collaborations on digital health to improve health and care around the world. Five work streams have been established, in cyber security, interoperability, evidence and evaluation, policy environments, and clinical and consumer engagement.

The inaugural meeting of the GDHP took place in Canberra in February, followed by a second in Washington DC in April. More meetings are planned, and other countries have expressed interest in joining, in recognition of the value of this ground-breaking work.

My Health Record

At the time of writing, almost one quarter of all Australians have registered for a My Health Record. That figure is expected to change dramatically with the transition to an “opt out” system early in the 2018-19 financial year. This will cement digital health in the very centre of Australia’s health and care infrastructure.

Once this resource becomes ubiquitous across the Australian health system, clinical workflows and consumer behaviours will gradually and irrevocably change to take advantage of its many benefits. Moreover, the digitally transformed healthcare landscape will provide a platform for ongoing innovation, further enhancing Australia’s already enviable healthcare system.

Berrigan: a glimpse of the future

A small glimpse of the near future of Australian healthcare was afforded to us when the Agency visited the town of Berrigan, in the Riverina region of NSW. Berrigan has the distinction of being the first town in Australia to connect all of its medical services to My Health Record.

For many people the benefits of digital health will be realised gradually, as health and medical data gradually accumulates to form a comprehensive medical history. Others are seeing more immediate benefits, such as Damien Taylor, a local teacher in Berrigan, and his family. Not long ago, Damien’s baby daughter was diagnosed with two holes in her heart. “That was the worst day of my life,” he said. He said My Health Record was critical for his family – it is the one safe place he keeps all his daughter’s complex and lengthy clinical notes so that he can share it with her clinicians.

Damien’s daughter has now had successful surgery and is doing well. My Health Record, he says, is “invaluable, a key part of our lives.”