Digital connectivity for the health sector to improve patient care

18 Oct 2017


Australia is in its infancy in terms of finding effective collection mechanisms for general practice (GP) clinical data. A number of overseas countries including the UK, NZ, Canada and the USA have more developed systems.

Assoc. Professor Jan Radford from Tasmania, Angela Ryan from NSW and Barbara Whitlock from the ACT have recently been announced as 2017 Churchill Fellowship recipients and will be investigating various overseas approaches to this issue from different perspectives to collectively develop mechanisms and engagement processes that will provide high quality, comprehensive data which, when supported by key stakeholders,  delivers major improvements to patient care nationally.

Dr Jan Radford is a General Practitioner with a track record of using electronic medical record data to improve patient healthcare in her own practice, and is passionate about unlocking the benefits of better use of it.

“I will visit the UK and Netherlands where I hope to find out how efforts to collate routinely-collected, de-identified, electronic medical data can be sustained and how the data can best be used to improve patient care”, Dr Radford said

Jan has already established a research group at the University of Tasmania that uses this type of data and also supports a national program that has pioneered the large-scale collection of de-identified medical records.

“Collecting de-identified data from a large number of practices can assist in understanding the pattern of disease in communities, how patients with these diseases are cared for, and can contribute to research. I want to understand how we can improve the collection of Australian GP clinical data by examining overseas mechanisms and bring that knowledge back for the benefit of our community”, Jan said.

Dr Radford hopes that in addition to being able to share her overseas learnings broadly across the Australian health sector, her long-term vision of being able to paint clear pictures of the health of Tasmanians by using routinely-collected, de-identified clinical data can become a reality. From there, the model could be applied across the country to benefit all Australians. 

General Manager of Clinical Programs and Deputy Chief Clinical Information Officer at the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), Angela Ryan operates at the forefront of digital health, with patient safety as her primary focus.

Digital technologies have the potential to provide safer care for patients, but according to Ms Ryan, evidence shows that poorly designed and operated systems can harm patients and even lead to death.

'These technologies are unregulated and there is no active surveillance, leaving potentially every patient exposed,' said Ms Ryan, the scale of the problem is growing; hundreds of patients can be harmed when IT in a hospital fails. Research has shown that national coordination of digital health safety governance can improve patient safety and prevent patient harm.'

Angela's Fellowship will examine international models that have been successfully implemented and provide a roadmap for their implementation in Australia.

Barbara Whitlock is a Director in the Health Analytics Branch who works on health data for the Australian Government and has big ideas about how this information can be better collected and used to support GPs and improve patient care.

The software GPs currently use during patient consultations holds clinical information that can identify cost-effective treatment and help GPs to benchmark their services, but there is so much more it could do to improve patient care.

'My Fellowship will investigate how lessons learned from overseas can be applied in Australia.  Various countries have mature data collection and feedback processes supported by GPs and patient advocates that are also used by researchers,' Barbara said.

‘These systems provide better quality GP clinical data which is used to improve clinical decision making and health system administration,' Barbara said.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust was established in 1965 to honour the memory of Sir Winston Churchill, and fulfil his wish to offer people from all walks of life, the opportunity to travel overseas to gain new knowledge and insights and bring that back to Australia to positively impact our communities and society at large.

“This award is for anyone who feels they have exhausted alternatives within Australia and would like to see what other countries are doing successfully in a similar space to inspire new ideas, innovation, and excellence,” said CEO of the Churchill Trust Adam Davey.

“No prescribed qualifications are required in order to apply for a Churchill Fellowship and the subject of the proposed project is limitless provided a benefit to Australia is evident and a willingness to share the knowledge gained with Australia is displayed.”

For the full list of 2017 Churchill Fellows visit

See where a Churchill Fellowship can take you…apply from 1 February 2018.

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