Mobile enablement meeting consumer demands

In September 2016, I was invited to speak at HISA Queensland’s workshop for Health Data Interoperability, held at Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital.  As the title suggests, the workshop brought together clinicians, technologists and other health informaticians to discuss various approaches to making interoperability within digital health services a reality. Such interoperability is universally recognised as a key component for an effective, user-friendly service.

In my talk, I focussed on the need for interoperability with the My Health Record system and recent, positive advancements with this capability.  In the past, consumers could only access their My Health Record via the secure MyGov website on their desktop, but recent improvements to the portal’s user interface mean that it can now also be viewed in a browser on your smartphone – a capability which meets growing consumer demand to access personal health data in an easy, safe and secure manner.

My Health Record is clearly one of the systems that needs to be interoperable if we are to achieve the best health outcomes for consumers and clinicians alike. In truth, the value of information in the My Health Record can only be fully realised when it is made accessible in a secure manner and used to support informed health choices.

Much of the conversation at the HISA event related to a recent entry into the health standards sphere: the Fast Health Interoperable Resources standard, (or FHIR, pronounced ‘Fire’), which describes data formats and elements (known as "resources") and an Application Programming Interface (API) for exchanging digital information. FHIR aims to provide an implementation-friendly approach to making health systems interoperable, and the standard itself is being enhanced through worldwide collaborative efforts. Such an approach is particularly relevant in the world of mobile development, where ideas develop rapidly in response to consumer needs.

After several months of collaboration with mobile developers, the June 2016 release of the My Health Record added that first stage of mobile enablement which I mentioned earlier – an outcome of this FHIR collaboration.  A number of the organisations involved in this collaborative effort are soon to release mobile applications for consumers which provide integration with the My Health Record system.  Current capabilities are centred on consumer needs, but the upcoming release My Health Record scheduled for later this year will add capabilities that support apps for healthcare providers too.

Mobile apps are key to a successful digital health system, but FHIR also supports other models of interaction, such as online portals and apps which link to portals/repositories separate from the My Health Record. These are likely to be where some real innovation occurs, as people bring together data from My Health Record and other consumer provided sources (for example fitness devices) and make some fascinating leaps forward.

The work done by the Australian Digital Health Agency to date is significant. We’ll see even more progress as we collaborate with innovative individuals and companies to start leveraging these foundations, adding value which allows consumers to take the power of their data into their own hands. To ensure this, functional, safe and secure interoperability is firmly in our sights.

David O’Driscoll is the Acting General Manager, Design and Development Authority Branch, Australian Digital Health Agency.

Follow David on Twitter @djodriscoll

If you would like to contribute to the National Digital Health Strategy, have you say at conversation.digitalhealth.gov.au/