Bringing digital health to the bush: Leaving no-one behind, organised by the Statewide Rural and Remote Clinical Network, was held on 8 November 2018. It had more than 130 in-person attendees, with many clinicians across Queensland attending via video conference.
Associate Professor Bruce Chater, Chair of the Statewide Rural and Remote Clinical Network, opened the forum and set the scene for the day. The aim of the day was to table and discuss the various digital health software options available, and what has already been digitalised. A distinguished line-up of keynote speakers spoke of the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. Speakers workshopped tables to discuss what was available and what was needed to make digitising rural health a success. Recommendations from the day will feed into the eHealth digital strategy to be developed by eHealth Queensland.
Dr Chater is also the Medical Superintendent with the Right to Private Practice at Theodore Multipurpose Health Service in Central Queensland. He spoke of leaving no-one behind when eHealth goes bush. As a practising GP, he said rural health often underestimated ‘their ability to adapt to technology and adapt technology to their needs’. He gave a brief rundown of the services offered across Queensland Health’s rural and remote facilities, and how digital health could help transform what is being done in these facilities. Dr Chater iterated bringing digital health to rural and remote parts of Queensland will be a whole community effort.
Dr Richard Ashby, the Chief Information Officer at eHealth Queensland, then spoke about the Queensland Government digital strategy—Digital1ST. He said one of the strategy’s principles was that rural and remote areas have a right, entrenched in government policy, to be on the same level of the digital health strategy that their cousins in the city are starting to enjoy. He emphasised there is a strategic setting to underpin this. Attendees heard about the need for vertically integrated care through integrated information and the critical need to get the infrastructure right for the digital system to work efficiently. Dr Ashby cautioned this was not an easy task, but said it was good to see people’s optimism and eagerness across the room.
Other speakers included Dr John Aloizos Senior, Clinical Reference Lead at the Digital Health Authority, who works on the clinical performance and safety of their products. He said ‘two of the most important factors to clinicians is ‘do no harm’ and ‘don’t waste time’.’ This should mean a collaborative approach with clinicians being integrally involved.
Professor Keith McNeil, Chief Clinical Information Officer at Queensland Health, also emphasised the need for strong clinician input. He said while digital hospitals give us the opportunity to capture good data, it is important that the data is used to improve patient outcomes.
Attendees also heard from clinicians who have undergone the transformation to digital health. They learned about its benefits and downfalls, and the complexity involved.
The underlying theme of the day was there could be no denying the benefits of a digital health system, but it is crucial to get the underpinning infrastructure and architecture right. Bandwidth, the correct equipment, co-design with clinicians, adequate preparation and ongoing support of staff is critical to success. As Dr Britten, one of the speakers, said: 'Once you embark on the digital health route, you will not want to go back. But it is a never-ending process of improvement.'
Dr John Aloizos, Professor Keith McNeil, Mr Steve Williamson, Mr Paul Bell, Dr Ewen McPhee, Ms Narelle Doss and Associate Professor Bruce Chater