Well-designed digital health could transform how healthcare is delivered

23 November 2023
Associate Professor Clair Sullivan, Jodie Austin, and Associate Professor Michael Barras

University of Queensland (UQ) research has found Australian healthcare has the potential to exploit the huge volume of health data to deliver better care to patients.

Writing in Australian Prescriber (October 2023), researchers from UQ’s Queensland Digital Health Centre predict digital health approaches are set to transform healthcare – provided human and technical challenges are overcome.

Researchers Jodie Austin and Associate Professors Michael Barras and Clair Sullivan say that digital solutions will support but not replace clinicians’ judgement in future.

Acknowledging the numerous challenges faced by the Australian healthcare system, such as a growing and ageing population, and ongoing pandemic and limited resources, current modes of healthcare delivery are unsustainable.

“Fortunately, these challenges coincide with the rapid expansion of digital health technologies. Digital health is increasingly recognised as the backbone of optimal health care, opening new and efficient ways to deliver care,” says the article.

The researchers note the growing interest in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms in predicting clinical events and prescribing medications.

“This shifts quality and safety improvement pathways away from the traditional ‘break–fix’ model to a ‘predict–prevent’ approach. While still limited in the number of approved clinical applications, there are promising early results,” the article says.

The trajectory of digital health transformation has been described across three conceptual “horizons”.

Horizon 1 lays the foundations and is achieved when an organisation routinely collects and uses data digitally for every patient at every encounter in real time. Horizon 2 leverages this real-time patient data to create analytics. Horizon 3 embeds new models of care into clinical workflows using data and digital technology.

“To truly transform practice, clinical decision support must become embedded into clinical workflows and be accepted by busy clinicians.

“Horizon 3  builds on foundational data and analytics to transform clinical practice by integrating data and technology into new and innovative models of care. This transformation of healthcare will drive where and how health services are delivered.”

The researchers say that while many healthcare providers are now well versed in computerised ordering and clinical decision-support systems offered in primary care and hospital settings, Australia is only on the cusp of harnessing the vast quantities of health data being generated.

“In striving to reach the third horizon of digital health and beyond, Australia’s health system can evolve into a learning health system that integrates data and experience into daily practice to continuously drive improvements.

“Further integration with other services and research facilities creates opportunities to pioneer new models of care. Health systems will become more permeable with the ability to share data beyond the enterprise structure.”