While health technology will inevitably continue to grow within healthcare over the coming years, it is important digital tools are developed that meet health needs through complementing the skills of clinicians, according to Professor Chris Bain, Monash University’s inaugural Professor of Practice in Digital Health.
Speaking to the ANMJ, Professor Bain, who is based at Monash’s Faculty of Information Technology, said previously there had been a slow uptake of technology in the healthcare sector due to workflow and lack of incentives.
However, over the past 12 months, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, Australia had to rapidly adapted Telehealth. Yet Professor Bain warned lessons needed to be learnt from the adaptation.
“It’s like we went from 10km/h to 100 km/h,” Professor Bain explained of the rapid adoption. “There’s almost certainly been bad with that… Hopefully we’ll come back around to 50 or 60 km/h and we’ll be doing much more than we were, but safely and appropriately.”
Of concern during the adaptation was the use of phones for appointments in primary care settings. Professor Bain said that in many ways, the lack of visual communication is “almost taking a step backwards”.
Professor Bain said improving the efficiency of data handling, and integrating new technologies such as digital stethoscopes or mobile EKG readings, would be crucial additions if Telehealth was to be used more effectively in the future.
“How can we add to the technology so they [clinicians] can be bothered using video and other tools, not just using a phone call, but also, how does it integrate with the other things they’re doing?” He said.
“Suddenly, maybe a nurse can do a lot more for a patient in a lot of cases by having that sort of remote technology available… [it] paints the picture of potential upskilling and increased scope of practice for nurses in time as well if it’s all handled well.”
Yet, Professor Bain said any new technology would need to ensure the spread of work for professionals remains proportional as possible while prioritising patient-centred care.
For instance, the fast uptake and investment in Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) has exacerbated workloads for some health professionals in the US, and expressed broad concern about the vulnerability of nurses and midwives in this area.
Professor Bain said that nevertheless EMRs would be a bigger part of health practice moving forward in Australia, and that if executed correctly by a hospital’s digital health team, could help ensure strong outcomes for patients, nurses and midwives.
“Everything from no longer writing documentation on paper forms, no longer entering OB-GYN paper charts, electronic drug prescribing and dispensing and inevitably probably more time at the computer than they do currently, I think they will see all of these things come to pass in the coming years,” he said.
“The art of what I do, and what people like me do, is to find that balance…not too much time at the computer, enough structured data, but also enough space to express the story of the patient, which is particularly important for nurses.
“Patients don’t turn up with a label on their head telling you what’s wrong.”
While digital health will continue to grow as a part of nursing and midwifery practice, Professor Bain said there were resources available, such as the Australasian Institute of Digital Health website and the Digital Health Guide, to ensure that workers were following best practice for using digital health technology.
With an array of innovations available for hospitals to utilise, Professor Bain said it was crucial for digital health practitioners to prioritise problem-solving in areas of need for healthcare providers.
“You can invent anything your brain is capable of in IT… I think there’ll never be a shortage of technology, but we should always start with… the really meaningful problem we’re trying to solve in the healthcare setting.”