Why a National Digital Health Strategy now?

As outlined in the previous section, there has been impressive progress in implementing digital health at the regional, state and territory and national level. However, the complex funding and governance model of the health system remains a barrier to health information sharing across different health sectors. It is well understood that great gains can be made from providing integrated care for patients as they transition across the primary care, acute care, mental health and aged care sectors. Digital health has the potential to enable information sharing between the various parts of the Australian health system and thereby support programs and initiatives that integrate care, wrapping it around the needs of patients. 

Aboriginal community GP and young child in office at computer

Governments continue to make significant investments in digital health systems. State and territory governments are embarking on major projects to implement state and territory-wide electronic medical records and to achieve integration across the range of clinical information systems in hospitals and health services managed by state or territory governments. While each state and territory is working within its own investment cycle and is at a different point in achieving this goal, there is a common pursuit to make health (and, for some jurisdictions, human services) information available in a more timely and usable way.

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Similarly, private hospitals, aged care service providers and community health services are investing in information systems and technology to improve quality and service delivery. Innovation in data analytics and increased expectations from consumers and funders to improve the experience and reduce avoidable errors and re-admissions to hospitals are among the drivers of investment in the non-government sector.

Older woman in GP office with female GP

Innovative start-up companies are crucial to developing the new digital health products and services focused on meeting the needs of patients, carers and healthcare providers. To accelerate the pace of innovation, innovators need spaces for collaboration and learning, and access to trusted information, tools, services and support to safely integrate with national digital health infrastructure.

Given the progress that is being made within locales, individual health services or within a health sector, there is a risk that uncoordinated investment in technology will exacerbate siloing in the health system, with each service or sector using a different “rail gauge”. The need for a truly inclusive national digital health strategy to underpin public and private digital health planning and investment is critical. A national strategy that sets out agreed priority areas and is underpinned by standards will send a signal to the market of areas of interest to governments and can encourage investment in both the public and private health systems in the same direction.

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"Alignment and partnerships between jurisdictions, local health networks, clinicians and patients will be critical to deliver the national digital health agenda and work program. Many jurisdictions already have a significant program of digital health activities already underway, that could support development and implementation of a National Digital Health Strategy."
- eHealth NSW submission

In this context, the Australian Digital Health Agency was established in July 2016 and tasked with leading the development of this National Digital Health Strategy and its implementation framework.[1]

The National Digital Health Strategy is, necessarily, a strategy for Australia, not just the Australian Digital Health Agency or the Commonwealth. The Strategy is built on the assumption that every participant in the health sector plays an important role in achieving the vision of digitally enabled healthcare: governments, industry, innovators, peak and advisory bodies, agencies, research institutions, healthcare providers, patients, carers and the broader community. The Strategy is not intended to govern everything digital in healthcare – rather, it is about laying a common digital health foundation, with which patients, carers and healthcare providers are engaged, and on which industry and researchers can innovate.

Download - Australia's National Digital Health Strategy: Safe, Seamless and Secure

By investing in a national strategy for digital health, Australian governments recognise the need to expedite the development of Australia’s digital health foundations, and that many of these national services can only and must only be built once, with sufficient quality and capability to cater for a range of needs, so they can be used by everyone who needs them.

The Agency will operate as a leader and facilitator, supporting and empowering health consumers, healthcare providers and industry. Given the Agency’s ongoing commitment to co-production, the next step in implementation is to co-design a Framework for Action with the broader health and care sector to agree an implementation plan.

Read more - Framework for Action

This co-design is imperative to ensure that the national priorities of this Strategy complement existing investment in digital health initiatives by industry and state and territory health departments and the broader health sector.

Read more - What does Australia want from digital health?