A vision of digitised health and human services


CSIRO Health & Biosecurity Business Unit Health Director, Dr Rob Grenfell, uses a case study to illustrate how digital technology and systems can improve every aspect of the caring economy

The following scenario illustrates the benefits of digitising health and human services. 

Tom has an acquired disability which limits his ability to totally self-care. He requires assistance in household duties, personal care and maintenance of his affairs. He lives in a supportive accommodation setting in the community. Through a National Funding Scheme (which would incorporate the various schemes available now for community support) he has a tailored and detailed system of care which allows him to live as full and independent a life as possible. This is enabled by an integrated approach of virtual and physical care components. Tom is empowered in knowing that he has support. This comes in the form of chat bots that steer him through daily challenges, smart home design that facilitates his daily activities, monitoring and measuring of his achievement of specific tasks and regular targeted visits by his care team virtually and physically. The technology frees up the carers to give Tom more emotional and personal support.

Mary works for the Community Care Company that provides many clients in the community with specialised health and care needs. She has a range of clients in facilitated self-care accommodation and receives regular updates on how they are faring and what challenges may be emerging through a dashboard of measures. She can contact clients virtually or physically as required. The contacts are electronically detailed, and the quality metrics of care are autonomously collected, allowing for effective communication with GPs and other health teams. Importantly, in this possible future scenario, the charging codes to the various government funding schemes are linked for auditing and accounting purposes.

Tracy is the manager of community services in the state Health and Human Services Department. The scheme to provide care to the significant number of community members under Government assisted care programs is demonstrating its quality and effectiveness, reassuring herself and her team. Importantly the privacy of the clients and the carers are protected, client-driven targets are regularly measured and supported, and the financing of the system is transparent and accountable. Importantly if deviations in expected care levels are identified, they can be corrected rapidly and accurately.

We can achieve these scenarios today by digitally enabling the care system through a supported and validated approach. Support refers to an appropriately skilled workforce, infrastructure and financing, while validation will need the standardisation of the collection, storage, security and interoperability of data. What is clear is that this digital transformation can improve the management of care, the measurement of the activities performed and the monitoring of the quality of care.

However, we face some key challenges in bringing this scenario about. These include the complexity of human services, the need for a sustained financial and strategic investment, and a well-executed change management process.

Applying a digital overlay to human service is not as simple as shifting to a digital transaction as we have seen in other industry sectors – a wide range of building blocks need to be in place. These include consumer engagement, workforce development and skillsets, infrastructure provision, finance models, data management and governance, legislative and ethical requirements, monitoring and evaluation, operational frameworks and standards.

In order to achieve the scenario outlined above, we need to focus on the two most challenging steps: data governance and workforce enhancement.

Many lessons have been learned over the implementation of the MyHealth Record system, but it also has to be appreciated that the health and care system had been dealing with data and its management for many years. What is needed to progress from this point is refinement and implementation of a solid rational approach to data management. This includes data standards, the validation of various data inputs, the rules for data analysis and the secure messaging between data entry points. The research in this area has progressed significantly to provide secure and privacy-assured systems to back the service models currently in action.

Dealing with workforce capabilities is a complex challenge. The Australian Digital Health Agency has just released a roadmap detailing the steps required for the national digital health workforce. There is an urgent need to reskill the existing workforce, to support the adoption of digitally-driven care systems and to create new roles in the health and care systems that will enable this transition.

This is a chapter in Digitising human services, a CEDA report in which six technology and services experts discuss how to build on the rapid digitisation brought on by COVID-19 to deliver better human services. Click here to read the other sections and an overview by CEDA Chief Economist Jarrod Ball.

Other recent CEDA research