Healthcare Opinion

Digitising to survive and thrive: The future of healthcare in Australia


While digital transformation is being pursued rapidly across industries, the adoption of even the most basic digital solutions in the Australian healthcare sector has been slow by comparison. 

Though no one can dispute the benefits of digitisation – from faster access to administrative efficiency and rapid aggregation of patient information – considerations of privacy and digital exclusion have posed unique roadblocks to progress in healthcare.  

Yet in a post-pandemic world, there is a clear and strong interest in digital engagement in healthcare, with 70% of Australians willing to use virtual health services and more than 80% willing to share their health data in a digitally enabled health system.  

With so many industry benefits and the support of digital citizens, why hasn’t more progress been made?   

To start, the process of converting healthcare management to become fully digital is not without its challenges. Healthcare providers still use a significant amount of paper records, so it’s not as simple as a clean swap of one for the other. There is also the balance of maintaining trust around transmitting records online and setting up systems and processes to prevent potential misuse or abuse of personal data. 

For these reasons, a successful digital strategy needs to carefully integrate the management and digitisation of paper records to allow healthcare providers to move towards digital working solutions while still having easy access to physical records when required. It also needs to be executed in a manner that adheres to document and information integrity, data protection laws and patient privacy requirements.  

The key to success here is finding a way to manage the transition to a digital documentation system whilst ensuring a successful and compliant practice that prioritises safety, security, and compliance in a constantly evolving digital landscape.  

One way to do this is by leveraging third parties who can help provide customised end-to-end services that cover the safe transfer of records, to secure cloud storage and safe destruction and shredding of assets – in today’s environment this should be inclusive of physical assets at end of life, as the data/information risk remains the same. This can help the healthcare sector overcome some of the challenges of privacy and confidently manage confidential and sensitive material. 

The road to digitisation in Australia 

With the ambition of becoming one of the top three digital governments in the world by 2025, the Australian Government has begun to make some strides towards implementing greater digital co-ordination across its healthcare systems. The New South Wales (NSW) government is currently moving towards introducing single digital patient records (SDPR) system, which will consolidate multiple systems into one integrated platform for clinicians.  

The SDPR aims to transform and modernise the current system, which is complex and disparate, with patient data spread over nine different systems for electronic medical records, ten patient administration systems and five pathology laboratory information management systems.  

Having disparate record systems can lead to duplicative data collection or create information gaps in decision-making and ultimately result in increased wait time and delays in diagnosis or patient care. Being able to provide a single system that gives clinicians real-time access to consolidated records will help patients receive standardised and streamlined care.  

Yet this is not without its challenges. Despite the benefits of a digitised health system, there remains concern that a transition towards digitisation will lead to technological exclusion and widen the existing disconnect faced by regional and rural communities with limited access to technology.  

The benefits of digitisation and e-health services to regional areas are multi-fold, such as reducing the risk of lost or damaged information from physical records and cutting travel time by removing geographical barriers. However, these benefits can only be unlocked with a simultaneous investment in better broadband connectivity, cyber security infrastructure, and commitment to filling tech talent shortages. 

In this way, the journey towards digitisation in the healthcare sector is complex, and a commitment to a digital healthcare transition will require a collaborative effort across multiple sectors to overcome these barriers.  

Yet the outcome is invaluable – boosted productivity, improved care coordination and more opportunities to reinvest operational cost-savings towards improving patient experiences, ultimately delivering forward-focused healthcare outcomes to all Australian citizens.

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Garry Valenzisi is the Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific, Global Industries at Iron Mountain.

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