Digital transformation of the healthcare industry is set to inform and empower health practitioners, offering data-driven insights and personalised record-keeping for patients.

The dramatic rise of telehealth, wearables, and technology uptake prompted by COVID-19 is expected to accelerate further, with analysts tipping a rise in the adoption of IT platforms.

Australasian Institute of Digital Health CEO Dr. Louise Schaper says digital transformation can provide better access to information and reduce the risk of mistakes.

“It’s very empowering for both health practitioners and consumers to have access to real-time information she says.

But, it’s the opportunity to turn this information into actionable clinical insights that make a massive difference for health practitioners.”

As the healthcare industry moves to a more person-centred care model, digital transformation is critical.

This includes continuing the use of telehealth, employing wearable monitoring and predictive devices, and in-home technology to gain information that assists in the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of patients.

For people with asthma, this could be monitoring their symptoms using an app, or having ongoing oxygenation levels recorded through a wearable device.

How is healthcare undergoing a digital transformation?

Healthcare is changing rapidly through digital disruption. Spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, global healthcare is undergoing a fundamental shift to virtual and tech-enabled care.1

Before the pandemic, less than 0.1 per cent of Medicare-funded visits were virtual care as they were restricted to people outside major cities, aged care residents, or those receiving care from Aboriginal Medical Services or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.2

Fast forward to between March 2020 and January 2021, 26% of medical and health consultations were conducted by telehealth according to analysis by the University of Queensland, marking a significant shift in the use of this technology. 3

A growing number of Australians also monitor their steps, sleep, and health data through apps, smartwatches and activity trackers as consumer-led med-tech devices continue their rise in popularity.4

Industry experts say this is all on the path to greater person-centred care, where information and healthcare combine to improve overall health outcomes.5

Better records and fewer mistakes

One of the benefits of digital health is access to accurate information in an effective format.

Dr Schaper says online and cloud-based systems can reduce paperwork, streamline processes and securely store information.

This helps to reduce potential errors, such as when paper-based files are lost, incomplete, hard to read, or not shared with other health practitioners.

“There are a lot of documented cases of mistakes that get made, unfortunately, in the healthcare system,” she says.

She says traditional paper-based files can be difficult to use and prone to human error. Dr Schaper points to anecdotal evidence of people whose medical files included small errors that resulted in major impacts in treatment advice.

“It could be the date of birth being wrong, and if you’re going to treat someone for a stroke or a cyst on the ovaries, that might change if that person is 30 or if they’re 50,” she says.

“If you just make a small number change or it’s hard to read and it doesn’t get picked up, the advice you’re going to give that person could be very different.”

Wearables and the rise of data

And the real transformation is coming.

Dr Schaper says the rise of wearable technologies monitoring and collecting real-time data will enable patients to monitor their own health.

“The majority of clinically valuable data in the future won’t come from within healthcare settings,” she says.

“It will come from our day-to-day data collection that gets shared with the healthcare system.”

From this huge volume of data, automated systems will be able to learn and evolve using information from everyday activities.

For medical technology, these datasets are tipped to transform proactive clinical decision-making and patient supports and treatments.6

Asthma apps to help manage your condition

One of the ways people with asthma can record and manage their condition is through apps.

Through these digital tools, patients can get reminders to take their preventer puffer in line with their prescription and keep all those scripts in one place, too.

Digital tools allow patients to track their asthma symptoms including peak flow tests, and record the number of times they experience symptoms using a simple questionnaire. This can be a great way between visits with treating health professionals, to monitor your patients asthma symptoms and help them keep on track.

An integration with Apple Health and Google Fit can also feed in step count and heart rate measurements into an app, which can help to determine trends around exercise and asthma symptoms.

Asthma Action Plans can also be stored securely in these digital tools, meaning patients have it with them at all times.