A mission to improve child health across Australia

mother and child
6 March 2018

Australia’s states and territories have joined forces in a ground-breaking, three-year exploration of how every child in Australia can have the option of a comprehensive digital health record from conception.

Crucial records on a child’s health and development, as well as their mother’s pregnancy, are currently captured in multiple paper and digital systems, meaning they are not always available when and where they are needed.

A digital health record would, however, be readily accessible by parents and healthcare providers and ultimately represent a powerful treatment aid for an individual throughout their life.

In one of the first initiatives of Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy – Safe, Seamless, and Secure, the Australian Digital Health Agency is partnering with eHealth NSW and the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) to establish the National Children’s Digital Health Collaborative.

SCHN Chief Executive Dr Michael Brydon said the Collaborative is exploring how every child in Australia can have the option of a comprehensive digital health record from the time they are conceived, through those critical first years and adolescence; readily accessible by parents and healthcare providers and ultimately for that individual throughout their life.

“This will be of enormous value – not only to healthcare professionals providing care to those children – but to the children themselves as they become young adults and start making decisions about their own health and care” said Dr Brydon.

The Collaborative comprises around 400 clinicians, consumers, IT experts, and researchers from across Australia and is aimed at making a positive impact on children’s health and wellbeing.

Agency CEO Tim Kelsey said the Collaborative is a momentous opportunity to make a lasting difference to the long-term health of all young Australians, given that many predictors of adult disease have their origins in childhood.

“This work will enable the establishment of lifetime digital health records for all Australian children, wherever they live or present for treatment,” Mr Kelsey said.

The Collaborative comprises a wide variety of experts, including clinicians, consumers, governments, researchers, providers and industry representatives, who will co-design and test a way for parents and healthcare providers to easily access standardised information on a child’s health and development.

This initiative will test how information can be captured not only through a child’s interaction with the health system and other services such as school immunisation programs, but also through their mother’s relevant interactions during her pregnancy.

eHealth NSW Chief Executive Dr Zoran Bolevich said the aim is to create a holistic digital view of a child’s health for families who choose to have one. The Collaborative will also test the ways in which parents, carers and healthcare providers want to access this information, including through systems such as My Health Record. This work will then provide a base of evidence and experience with a view to rolling out solutions nationally.

“We want to engage and empower children and their families by providing them with consumer-friendly digital access to their health information and evidence-based health resources,” Dr Bolevich said.

The initiatives identified in the Collaborative align with the National Digital Health Strategy’s models of care to improve accessibility, quality, safety, and efficiency in improving child health. “In 2016 more than 311,000 babies were born in Australia.* When these initiatives are implemented, Australian children will have a lifelong digital health record their healthcare providers can refer and contribute to. How powerful a treatment aid will that be?” Mr Kelsey said.

Mr Kelsey said this is a platform for innovation for industry to develop new tools and digital health services.

The National Digital Health Strategy outlines a test bed for children’s health that will examine how every child in Australia can have access to a comprehensive digital health record. This record will be readily accessible by parents and healthcare providers, to track key childhood healthcare interventions such as immunisations and to ensure that healthcare providers are able to offer safe, high-quality care.

In October 2017, the Agency’s Board approved funding to design, build, and evaluate proofs of concept for five nationally focused initiatives including a National Child Digital Health Record; upload of school immunisation records to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR); a National Digital Pregnancy Health Record; National Digital Child Health Checks; and research into a Longitudinal Digital Child Health Record.

For more information, see www.digitalhealth.gov.au or email EHNSW-ChildCollaborative@health.nsw.gov.au.

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