Digital health covers such a broad field of activity that it can be sometimes difficult to know where to start. The good news is that it may not involve a large investment of time or money to get started and help your service become better connected. Below are some simple ways your practice can begin its digital journey

Get Online

Developing a simple website or Facebook page with service and contact information is a great way to start. Your current and potential clients could then use this site to find out how to get in touch and ask basic questions, and you can use it to communicate with your patient group about any upcoming programs such as flu vaccines clinics or chronic condition programs.

There are many useful website providers available if you would just like something simple such as WixWordPress and others that make building a website easy, but check the terms and conditions closely for any advertising or payment requirements.

You may also consider buying your own domain name that will enable you to create your own web address. This will make your business look more professional and make it easier for your patients to find.

For those who would prefer, you can also contract the services of a web developer to take care of all of this for you, generally for a fee.

Directory Listings and Appointments

The National Health Service Directory (NHSD) is a listing of health service providers across Australia including general practice, allied health, emergency care, pharmacy and more, and enables consumers to search and find a provider in their area. You can easily register your service on the directory but remember to keep it up to date when things change. The NHSD is delivered by Healthdirect Australia, a joint initiative of all Australian governments.

There are plenty of service provider listings online that your practice may also wish to consider. My Community Directory is another option that provides listings for a variety of service providers including health services, local community groups, aged care services and more or check with your local council to see if they have any online portals you can register your practice for.

Your service could offer online booking for appointments, which would not only enable consumers to browse and find an appointment that suits them, but also ease the load on your busy reception staff. There are a number of providers offering directory and booking products including Healthengine, HotDoc and Docappointments.com.au, however check the terms and conditions to see if these providers are right for you.

Alternatively your practice may choose to adopt their own online booking system. Check with your clinical information system vendor (ie BP Premier, Medical Director etc) to see if they have modules available or compatible systems that you can use.

Electronic Records

Many service providers now maintain electronic records for their patients over the cumbersome paper based filing systems which can also be shared with other service providers. Such systems are commonly referred to as Clinical Information Systems (CIS) and in general practice the most common ones are BP Premier, Medical Director, Zedmed, MedTech, Genie and Communicare, but there are dozens more on the market.

It can be difficult to determine which CIS will be right for your practice as they can vary tremendously in capabilities and cost. Some focus on patient information and records only, whilst others include additional features such as care planning or incorporates billing and scheduling functions to help manage your practice. Every practice should thoroughly identify and assess what they would require their clinical systems to do in order to identify the best product to use within their practice.

Going digital also enables health services and patients to share their health information easier than ever before. My Health Record is the national platform for sharing of patient information across Australia. It is available to all registered healthcare providers within Australia and integrates with a wide range of clinical systems. The following is the current list of compatible software for My Health Record which may be helpful if your practice is looking to adopt a new clinical system.

Other sharing platforms are also available for healthcare providers wishing to provide high level care to their patients. Such system can be customised to a particular population or condition, and can also integrate with other systems including My Health Record and a practice’s clinical software.

Standards and Guides

There are a number of extremely important policies and procedures that any health care provider will need to be aware of when stepping into the digital realm to ensure their activities are secure and patient information is managed appropriately.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has developed the Computer and Information Security Standards (CISS) that provides essential information in how to manage information and infrastructure needs such as network controls, protecting against spam and malware, roles and responsibilities, potential risks and information sharing. It is highly recommended that all service providers refer to this guide when deciding to engage in any digital health activities.

The RACGP has also developed several digital business kits and plans designed to provide advice and guidance for general practice as to how to become digital health ready. The kits includes tailored plans to suit the size of your business and outlines the important ‘must have’ components to take part in digital health. Whilst these kits are aimed at general practice, they can also be a handy guide for other primary health providers.

On a national level, the Australian Digital Health Agency is the Government funded organisation tasked with developing and supporting digital health across all areas of health. WAPHA works in partnership with the Agency to help move healthcare in Western Australia into the digital frontier. The Agency is responsible for developing key standardisation frameworks and guidelines such as the National Clinical Terminology Service, the eHealth Reference Platform, security protocols and key service infrastructure that provides a solid national foundation to enable digital health initiatives such as My Health Record to fully flourish.

Health service delivery throughout Australia is changing, will you be a part of it?