Letter from the CEO – Bringing it home in 2020: We shouldn’t have needed a pandemic to recognise that digital health solutions are key to enabling patient-centred health care.

In a year best described as ‘challenging’, innovation has become much more than a buzzword. In fact, it has become a critical factor in the successful delivery of services across all industries, particularly healthcare.

portrait photo of Helen Souris the CEO

2020 has provided a distinctly unusual environment for the delivery of healthcare, particularly for people who have been reluctant, or unable, to access traditional clinical services in both metro and regional areas. Health care providers have been required to accelerate innovation and adopt delivery models reliant on digital technologies to ensure care continuity, and that the quality of care has been maintained and accessible for all.

Even before 2020, the availability of over 40,000 healthcare apps on Android and IOS demonstrated the global consumer demand for apps and other digital technologies to independently manage their health. However, very few of these are evidence-based or designed to be incorporated into the mainstream delivery of specialised health services.

It is also necessary to recognise that with an aging population and the rise of chronic conditions such as heart disease, the availability of clinically validated digital health programs and apps to help patients manage their health is critical in reducing the impact on already stretched health services across Australia.

The need for evidence-based digital health resources is not just being recognised by tech entrepreneurs, biotech and pharma companies. Front line practitioners have long been aware of the disconnect between the needs of patients and the availability and accessibility of evidence-based digital health solutions.

An article by Jen Hummelshoj (RN) published in 2019 on the Australian College of Nursing website notes, “As Nurses, we know the importance of evidence-based practice. The widespread adoption of mobile phones presents a significant opportunity to improve health behaviour, particularly in relation to prevention and management of chronic disease, but the evidence base for these interventions is currently lacking.”

The pandemic has been a strongly motivating factor for the government’s investment in digital health innovation, not just to address short term needs, but also, as stated by Health Minister Greg Hunt “to support our efforts to become a leading digital economy by 2030.”

There is no doubting the potential positive impact of evidence-based digital health innovations that bring together clinical oversight and the tech-enabled delivery of structured care plans via apps.  At Cardihab, we strongly believe that as an industry we need to focus on the crucial interdependencies of telehealth infrastructure and validated virtual programs that deliver clinical outcomes. Removing barriers to uptake, clinical integration and improving funding pathways will enable better delivery of person-centered care and efficiencies in healthcare utilisation.

As an industry we also need to consider what additional standards digital health programs should incorporate as best practice. For example, the inclusion of data from technologies that are registered on the Australian Registry of Therapeutic Goods ( ARTG) to ensure governance, quality frameworks and demonstrable clinical outcomes.

We also believe that context is important – making sure that the technology we use and the data we collect is clinically relevant and/or validated. Quite simply, clinical evidence is critical in differentiating patient centred, clinically led digital health  programs from the multitude of solely tech driven consumer apps that source data from the Internet of Things (IoT).

Last, but not least, we are staunch advocates for the unequivocal protection of the health data that is collected during the use of digital health programs, ensuring privacy for both patients and clinicians.

Bertalan Meskó (The Medical Futurist) notes that  “Digital health is nothing else but the cultural transformation healthcare has been going through in the 21st century.”

Further on he opines that “The reason why (digital health) hasn’t been implemented yet is purely human. It’s the 3Rs of healthcare gatekeeping: Rejection by individual medical professionals, good Regulations that are lacking, and the Resistance within the existing healthcare system, which is rooted in the belief that change can be stopped. Well, 2020 made it obvious that it can’t.”

Constantly incorporating feedback from patients and clinicians about the usability of developing digital health platforms, and extracting the best possible data from them, results in clinicians consistently delivering high quality and effective care to their patients, irrespective of whether that care is delivered via a digital health platform or face-to-face.

At Cardihab, we have focussed on patient-centered outcomes from the beginning and acknowledge the benefits of having a pandemic forcing a shift in thinking right across the health industry to embrace digital health solutions.  The future for us is exciting and filled with opportunity to establish clinically validated technologies as core components to how healthcare is delivered either in the clinic, at home or in blended models that meet the needs of the patient and the care providers.

What are some of the things you believe the health care industry should be prioritising within the digital health scope as we shift towards a future where patients access healthcare in ways that work for them?

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