Getting the word out about My Health Record

Karen Sims is a health communications professional working in the Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network, one of 31 networks across the country that work closely with their local communities to understand their healthcare needs and support improved service delivery. This role keeps her in touch with community perspectives and national government agendas. In this Q&A she shares her valuable perspectives on the Australian digital health scene.

1. Tell me about the Eastern Melbourne PHN.

Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network, established by the Australian Government in 2015, plans and invests in primary healthcare initiatives for close to 1.5 million people in Melbourne’s east and northeast. The area in which it works is from the inner-eastern suburbs of Melbourne to the wine region in the Yarra Valley in the east, and new urban growth and semi-rural communities to the north. The Eastern Melbourne PHN works on initiatives in digital health, general practice engagement, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, chronic disease, aged care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island health, and immunisation.

2. And your role there?

I am the My Health Record Communications Manager for all the PHNs in Victoria and Tasmania. At present, I am developing the regional Consumer Communications Strategy in association with the Communications Leads in the six Victorian and one Tasmanian PHN to raise consumer awareness during the expansion program.

3. Why are Primary Healthcare Networks an important piece to communications activities being undertaken?

There is nothing like local knowledge and experience. The PHNs have vast knowledge about the people in their networks, their health requirements and how best to communicate with them. Local environments and demographic distinctions are critical when developing communications activities so that they are general enough in nature to be far-reaching and specific enough that all activities are meaningful and effective.

4. What are your thoughts about the expansion of the My Health Record program to all Australians?

I’m a fan! Having an online health summary will assist Australians to be more involved in their health issues without having to remember every health detail and take a file of paper with them when they visit the pharmacy, the GP and other health professionals. So many drugs sound similar and who can remember if their Vitamin D level was tested last year or the year before? Well, we won’t have to with My Health Record – all the information will be safely and securely online.

5. Do you have any advice for healthcare professionals about digital health?

Change can be challenging but I advise healthcare professionals to keep an open mind about My Health Record and focus on the benefits for themselves in terms of recording information, and for their patients and clients who will benefit from their health information being accessible wherever they are in the world. Ultimately, My Health Record will be a vital component of improved health management for Australians.

6. What are your tips for other communication professionals working on the My Health Record expansion program?

The My Health Record expansion program is an opportunity for communications professionals to be part of a pioneering project that will be source of pride in their careers. Start by gaining a thorough understanding of its history, review media coverage and ask lots of questions of experts and people with experience in healthcare. Use trusted relationships to build links to your community, consider using different channels, look out for stories to tell, and be empathetic in whatever communications you engage in.