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2021: challenge and progress – CEO Amanda Cattermole

Published 20 December 2021

I think it’s fair to say we’re all looking for a return to some form of normality in 2022, but we can be assured that one aspect of Australian life won’t be reverting to its pre-COVID-19 state.

The pandemic has shown millions of Australians that digital health technology is no longer a distant concept. It is the here and now.

Since March 2020, 87 million telehealth services have been delivered to 16.2 million patients. More than 30 million electronic prescriptions have been issued as healthcare providers and patients see the benefits of going digital. More than 32,000 prescribers – GPs and nurse practitioners – have issued electronic prescriptions, and more than 98% of community pharmacies are dispensing them.

Fast-tracked by 12 months from an almost standing start in May 2020, electronic prescriptions are providing safer, faster and more efficient supply of prescriptions to Australians – in person via their doctor or via a telehealth consultation – sent straight to their mobile phone or by email.

COVID-19 has lighted a fire under the old ways of working. The prescribing initiative alone was delivered in 8 weeks, facilitated by the Australian Digital Health Agency and characterised by collaborative co-design between governments, industry, peak bodies, health professionals and consumers. 

Following on from this we are working to dramatically improve medicines safety through the introduction of the Active Script List and Pharmacist Shared Medicines List – digital solutions designed to help people taking multiple medicines or transitioning through care by providing a complete, accurate and up-to-date list of their medications. 

We have never been better placed to exploit the technology and opportunities of the digital age to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, anchored by progress that has positioned us to respond to unprecedented growth in digital health during the pandemic. This includes the coming of age of the My Health Record system – now serving more than 23.1 million Australians and their healthcare providers.

In the 12 months to October 2021, system views by public hospitals rose by 155% (from around 4 million to more than 10 million). GPs viewed records more than 4 million times, a 66% increase over 12 months. Consumers and their healthcare providers viewed almost 1.7 million pathology reports in October alone, which was a 500% increase in one year.

The enhanced capacity of My Health Record for consolidating immunisation histories and COVID-19 digital vaccination certificates has been complemented by a COVID-19 dashboard. In 2022, a consumer mobile app will put the health information of Australians directly into their hands, where and when they need it. 

A hospital-based mobile Healthcare Information Provider Service is helping doctors too, enabling them to review a patient’s My Health Record for medicines, immunisations, allergy information or advance care directives while making rounds, at a patient’s bedside or even from home or in private practice – all integrated with their hospital patient lists. 

These rapid and substantial changes in digital health are forming the backbone of Australia’s next National Digital Health Strategy, which is currently in development and will be launched mid next year. 

Through direct participation in the strategy process, more than 7,000 Australians have told us what they want from their healthcare system: continuous improvement in their access to health information and for information to be available whenever and wherever they need it.

They expect that their healthcare providers can use digital technologies confidently and that Australia will nurture a thriving digital health industry, delivering world-class innovation. 

Consumers also want high-quality information with commonly understood meanings so that information can be securely exchanged between their health providers; stored digitally to improve accessibility, quality, safety and efficiency; and used with confidence. 

This requires critical, ongoing investment in the national health infrastructure that supports key national systems and platforms such as My Health Record.

In response, the Australian Digital Health Agency is building a new Health API Gateway – a secure and scalable platform for clinicians to exchange and access health information, including in priority areas such as vaccinations and aged care data. 

This is at the heart of the National Infrastructure Modernisation program that will see significant improvements delivered in stages during the first half of 2022. It will be supported by a strong, agreed roadmap towards a truly interoperable healthcare system, within which connected healthcare providers can conveniently and seamlessly share quality data with easily understood meanings. 

The meaningful exchange of quality information across a lifetime of health and care is an essential attribute of a modern and efficient health system. 

While there will always be room for a blend of new and traditional models of care, it is now clear that technology can be harnessed to pick up the workload not yet realised in personalised health and care. It can also reduce administration and frustration on all sides to increase choice and customer experience for Australians and bring them more fully into the centre of their own health and care.

COVID-19 has shown that Australians embrace digitally enabled health technology when it speaks to them, makes change that improves their lives and when their active participation is properly supported. At the Agency we are working with partners, healthcare professionals and peaks, industry bodies and consumer organisations to achieve this goal.

Together we can build access to the right health and care when and where it is needed and harness the power of health information to drive truly whole-of-person care. 

About the author

Amanda Cattermole PSM, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Digital Health Agency

Prior to her current role at the Agency, Ms Cattermole was the Chief Operating Officer at Services Australia and served as interim Chief Executive Officer during 2019-20. She holds a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Commerce, a Master of Laws, a Master of Business Administration, and received the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service.

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