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Digital Health Assessment reveals solid foundations for improvements in digital maturity.

Results to inform PHN digital health change and adoption approach.

The Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (HNECC PHN) has completed a comprehensive digital health maturity assessment for more than 300 health facilities revealing a marginally higher score of digital maturity across the HNECC region in comparison to other PHN regions.

The Digital Health Maturity Assessment is a tool for measuring the relative digital capabilities of general practices, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, Allied Health practices and residential aged care facilities. Designed to be completed in 15 minutes, the assessments use a customisable, survey-based approach to address questions of infrastructure, technology, meaningful use, readiness and willingness for digital change, digital literacy and clinical leadership.

Following assessment, health services are placed into an appropriate maturity level – Foundational, Intermediate or Advanced. Results are used to better understand the spectrum of digital health maturity across health sectors to improve the PHN's digital health change and adoption approach.

Over the period of April 22 to June 2023, using an established scoring methodology, the Health-e Together Digital Care Survey, (which was customised by healthcare organisation type), was sent to practices and facilities who opted-in to participate. The survey was typically completed by practice managers, general managers or business owners. The results revealed that the average maturity score for general practices in the HNECC region at 71.4 out of 100. At the time of completion, this was marginally higher than the average for other PHN regions.

HNECC PHN Chief Executive Officer Richard Nankervis said the assessments have been an excellent tool for understanding where we are and where we want to be. “The Digital Health Maturity Assessment provides a unique opportunity for the PHN to effectively support primary healthcare organisations through sustainable digital change that benefits both consumers and the business.

“For example, the general practice results indicate that the technology infrastructure is in place and there is high readiness for change. The PHN can leverage these results to provide individualised support to practices to increase the meaningful use of digital health solutions and increase digital literacy.

“Our digital health team is working with other internal teams such as the Primary Care Improvement Officers, Commissioning, Aged Care and allied health teams in each of the health sectors to continue to facilitate this change. We thank all health professionals who are working with the PHN by embracing digital health technology, new and old.”

To support meaningful use, the PHN developed the Health-e Together Digital Care Toolbox which enables PHN teams to provide change support to all primary healthcare providers based on their current maturity.   

Key themes emerging from the digital health maturity assessment in General Practice include:

  • Availability of ICT infrastructure, technology and digital health solutions is good, work remains in getting practices using these existing solutions to full effect.
  • Practices not using fax tend to correlate with being more mature, with most being at an Advanced maturity level. Therefore, it is possible to “axe the fax”!
  • Uptake of cloud-based practice management systems is slow, and work is needed to encourage practices in this direction for security, interoperability and business efficiency.
  • Work is required on cyber-security and disaster recovery as knowledge on these topics is low and requires attention to address vulnerabilities.
  • Only six per cent of practices continue to use paper or cards for medical record keeping. Only a few practices have not started on the journey of digitisation and continue to write their medical records on paper or cards.
  • Facetime and Skype continue to be used for telehealth. While telephone is by far the most commonly used platform for telehealth, where practices use video-based telehealth Facetime and Skype continue to be widely used, despite not being fit for purpose and lacking appropriate security for use in healthcare.

Key themes emerging from the digital health maturity assessment in Allied Health include:

  • Allied Health digital health maturity (59.2) is lower than general practice (71.4), but slightly higher than RACFs (54.1).
  • Work remains to drive the meaningful use of digital health solutions, for example in My Health Record and Secure Messaging.
  • Digital literacy amongst allied health providers needs improving. As many survey responders are likely to be more digitally mature, digital literacy is likely to be more of an issue than acknowledged in the survey.
  • 21% still use paper or cards for medical recording keeping.
  • Patient safety; 57% of practices use a fax machine, 66% ‘frequently’ or ‘occasionally’ send patient information via email and 21% still use paper or cards for medical recording keeping.
  • Only 21% of practices surveyed used health featured and security compliant telehealth software.

Comparisons of Digital Maturity across health sectors

The comparison between health sectors as shown in Table 1 shows:

  • Allied health practices, have the highest standard deviation score, almost double general practice, which indicates greater diversity of digital maturity. 
  • Aged care services demonstrated the lowest average maturity score and lowest score for infrastructure and meaningful use of digital health solutions.
  • General practices reported the most significant difference between available digital technologies and tools and their meaningful use.
  • Digital literacy of Allied Health clinicians is lower compared to aged care and general practice.

The Digital Health Maturity Assessments will be used to improve the digital health change and adoption approach used by the PHN when working with individual health sectors.

The results have provided the HNECC PHN with benchmark data to inform success of upcoming digital health programs through future, repeated Digital Health Maturity Assessments.

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