Strategy launched to better connect care

Aged care residents will benefit the most, says expert.

­­­­Advanced information sharing and real-time data exchange is “absolutely crucial” for the aged care sector, says an industry expert.

“Because this is where complex, chronic long-term health conditions exist,” said Dr Steve Hambleton – chief clinical advisor at the Australian Digital Health Agency.

Dr Steve Hambleton

Speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda following last week’s launch of the agency’s five-year National Digital Health Strategy, Dr Hambleton said aged care residents were “the target audience” for such information-sharing technology.

“They’re the ones who are going to benefit the most from having all the information about them available to the provider so we can make better decisions.”

Signed off by federal, state and territory governments, the National Digital Health Strategy 2023-2028 outlines the next steps for Australia to take toward greater digital connectivity between healthcare settings, such as aged care, community care, acute care, and disability care.

“Everybody agreed it is now the time to share the information that we have – it’s a huge change away from siloed information,” said Dr Hambleton. “We’ve lived with siloed information in healthcare forever. And that’s part of the big transition with this new digital health strategy – it’s about sharing information; making it available at the point where you need it, when you need it.”

The strategy aims to digitally connect care

The 62-page document points to four desired outcomes to flow on from the strategy. Australia’s care systems must be:

  • inclusive
  • data-driven
  • digitally-enabled
  • person-centred.

Of the latter, Dr Hambleton told AAA: “It’s about the person. That’s the other thing about this digital health strategy, it’s deliberately calling out that this is designed around the person and taking into consideration the needs of the person.”

Addressing concerns that older people may be left behind by technology, Dr Hambleton said that they’re more tech-smart than people perceive. “We think senior citizens are not IT savvy, but many of them are. I’m a GP, I’ve got 80-year-olds coming in saying, ‘I looked up my result the other day, what does that mean?’ They’re really engaged.”

The boomers are even more engaged with tech, said Dr Hambleton. “There are a lot of IT savvy people who are moving through into aged care who are more than capable of accessing their own information – and controlling that access too.”

Another area of concern when it comes to information sharing, is that sensitive data might be hacked. “There is an enormous focus on cybersecurity – certainly at the Digital Health Agency. And we’ve had illustrations of why that has to be the case publicly for the last couple of years,” said Dr Hambleton, who will speaking at the Innovation & Technology Across Care national conference on the Gold Coast next month.

“Cybersecurity is one of those things where good enough is never enough. When we think we’ve achieved sufficient security we then look at what we’re doing and we reset the goals and that happens constantly at the digital health agency, and in government.”

He added: “There is constant uplift in cybersecurity. And that’s the one thing we can say in public – whatever we’ve got today, it’ll be better tomorrow.”

In-home technologies set to become more commonplace

Also better tomorrow are tech opportunities for home care. “If you look at this strategy it’s over the next five years,” said Dr Hambleton. “If you or I are talking in five years’ time, the world will be a very different place.”

As Dr Hambleton points out, we’ve already got telehealth, remote monitoring and activity sensors. “And we can see the benefit of that already where we’ve implemented activity monitors, [a person’s] time on the floor has decreased from something like four hours to 20 minutes. All of these things are going to benefit from interoperability.”

Such in-home technologies will become ever-more commonplace, said Dr Hambleton. “Governments have realised that if we can keep people in their own homes supporting them, it’s better for the person because you’re in a familiar environment and it’s better for [care] systems because it’s less expensive.”

Personal betterment is behind a large part of the thinking at the Australian Digital Health Agency, said Dr Hambleton. “We’re not building a computer and we’re not building technology. We’re doing things to make sure that we deliver better health outcomes and support health and wellness in the community.”

The roadmap sets out the steps for how the strategy will be implemented

A delivery roadmap has been developed to support the strategy’s implementation. It “outlines the scope, approach, governance, key inputs, partners and priority initiatives that will contribute to delivering the strategy’s vision” and is intended to inform and guide future shared investment and work plan development of partners across health and care systems.

Partners include aged care providers, residential aged care facilities, and disability, veterans, and social services. The roadmap shows projects that are underway and in planning as well as future initiatives. Those relevant to the aged care sector underway, and their target completion date, include:

  • pilot and evaluate the national digital health capability framework and self-assessment tool to improve the digital health skills of the reisdential aged care workforce, 2024
  • assist software vendors to connect residential aged care facilities to My Health, by 2025
  • enable consumers, carers and healthcare providers to access key aged care information such as the aged care assessment summary in My Health Record, by 2025
  • develop a digital health workforce readiness framework for organisations to self-assess and plan their digital health workforce development, by 2025.

When it comes to judging whether or not the digital health strategy has been a success, Dr Hambleton told AAA: “It isn’t a computer in a corner or a server somewhere – cloud-based, whatever. It’s people in their homes, in the community being supported, staying well, maintaining their wellness, and when they need help, they’ve got the full information to both access for themselves and for their healthcare providers to access as well.”      

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Tags: australian digital health agency, dr steve hambleton, National Digital Health Strategy,

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