Sustainable healthcare solutions: Australia’s digital frontier 

Sustainable healthcare solutions: Australia’s digital frontier 

Laurie Hawkins, CEO of AITIA Global, champions Australia’s healthcare sustainability in a digital age. Hawkins’ article delves into the nation’s journey towards sustainable healthcare, emphasising the critical role of Digital Transformation in shaping a healthier future. 

The health sector is grappling with an urgent and unprecedented crisis, marked by the onslaught of chronic diseases, an ageing population, financial costs and healthcare professional shortages, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite ongoing efforts, the mounting demands and sustainability risks continue to pose a significant challenge, and the need for effective change is pressing. 

The prevalence of chronic conditions and their root causes presents a colossal challenge to healthcare systems worldwide. Digital Transformation, with its potential to streamline processes, improve data management and enhance patient care, could be a game-changer in this scenario. 

The Australian government’s Department of Health and Aged Care states: ‘Chronic conditions are the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia.’ This will threaten to overwhelm Australia’s health budget, health service capacity and health workforce. 

The significance of disease prevention is undervalued, and we don’t do enough, especially with the volume of data available. 

Disease prevention is not just a strategy but a key that unlocks long-term health and economic benefits. It significantly enhances health outcomes and secures the well-being of future generations, making it a crucial component of any sustainable healthcare system. 

Prevention is critical to improving the health of all citizens, reducing health-related expenditures and ensuring a sustainable health system. 

To do this, we need multisector partnerships and foundational digital health infrastructure in the cloud, which I have been responsible for in Australia. We are now undertaking to reduce health disparities by providing digital health components identifying your ‘physical assets’ and the ‘services’ they offer can help achieve this goal. Thus, establishing a ‘single source of truth’ is necessary to ‘connect all the dots’. 

For a successful digital health transformation, it is imperative to recognise that the sustainability of the health sector hinges on establishing robust multisector partnerships. While some health determinants fall within the sector’s purview, others extend beyond its boundaries. Therefore, fostering strong, cooperative and productive partnerships between all stakeholders is not just beneficial but crucial to our collective goal of preventing and managing chronic conditions. 

This means creating partnerships for the whole of health and community well-being. 

To ensure sustainable and healthy communities, all stakeholders should be willing to partner and collaborate across social, economic and environmental determinants of health. This includes building and supporting effective partnerships across relevant sectors such as Aged Care, Childhood Development, Climate-Related Illness, Disability, Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health, Immigrants, etc. 

A foundational ‘Digital Health Infrastructure’ strategy is required to achieve this goal. This infrastructure will facilitate necessary partnerships, work towards disease prevention and broader sustainability goals and deliver purpose and value to all partners and their communities.  

In Australia, I have been responsible for the success of the Victorian Human Services Directory (HSD), then onboarding the Australian Capital Government (ACT) into the same database, and then the Northern Territory (NT). Following this fantastic achievement of getting three state governments to share data in one Health Services Library, the National E-Health Transition Authority (NeHTA) organised a 2011 conference in Sydney where all state/territory health departments, plus the federal governments, the national private hospital, pathology providers, the Australian Defense Force (ADF) which utilise the private sector, joined together to discuss the theme of a National Services Library. Given the success of the Victorian HSD, all stakeholders overwhelmingly decided that a National Health Services Directory (Health Services Library internationally) should be created based on the Victorian model. Included in this is the National Healthmap to allow policy-makers, health planners, researchers and consumers to utilise this data for the ‘Social Determinants of Health’. And has evolved in the creation of an International Standard for Health Services Libraries in 2013. 

The National Health Services Directory is a comprehensive library of health and social care services and related provider information that was launched in July 2012. It serves as a national ‘single source of truth’, which means that it is a reliable and trustworthy source of information. Australians can use it to quickly find their closest health service and its opening hours, even if they are crossing jurisdictional borders. 

The directory includes GPs, hospitals, emergency departments and pharmacies, with additional health services, including allied health and aged care providers, added over time. Healthcare providers can use the directory to make referrals, discharge summaries, etc. for their patients. The National Health Services Directory is also available as a smartphone app and through many governments and Medicare Local websites throughout Australia (Healthdirect Australia Annual Report 2012-2013). 

The Australian National Healthmap uses a ‘Google Maps interface’ to unify the vast number of datasets held by numerous stakeholders so that evidence-based decisions can be made by health planners, policymakers, consumers and researchers. 

In addition, this system enables health and social care organisations, whether public, private or not-for-profit, to leverage a vast knowledge base and acquire valuable insights at a local, national and possibly international scale. This can aid in the planning and providing care for consumers, even down to their postcode. 

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