Professor Chris Bain highlights current and future trends in digital health

Highly variable practices leave plenty of room for improvement.

Prof. Chris Bain

Imagine the view inside the Medical Records department office at a busy suburban hospital. A dozen archive boxes are neatly stacked against the wall, with more boxes piled up around the manager’s desk. Inside, the confidential paper medical records of hundreds of people are filed, awaiting collection and delivery to an off-site storage space costing tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars per month. In 2018, this scene really shouldn’t exist.

In a seminar held last week by the Faculty of IT, Professor of Practice in Digital Health Chris Bain explored current and future trends in Australian digital health, including such eye-opening insights into the state of digital health practices right now. In the digital age, there’s clearly more cost-efficient ways to record and store confidential patient information, yet we don’t yet have the systems and culture in place to make it happen. Bain explained that digital practices in hospitals remain highly variable and subject to funding, leadership and established medical and nursing culture. Simply, the technology exists but the practice isn’t yet embedded into care, despite the evident potential for better patient outcomes.

Bain also highlighted the potentially catastrophic consequences when digital health practices aren’t thoroughly embedded into clinical decision-making. A recent coronial inquest into the death of a man who died after routine surgery due to a data entry error made by the anaesthetist shows that lack of training in new IT systems, particularly in the context of a hierarchical medical culture, can lead to avoidable and unnecessary deaths.

Bain shared insights into the evolution of augmented reality technology in medical education, where students can undertake simulations of medical procedures using head-mounted devices, plus a smartphone app that can measure your heart rhythms from home. Bain believes that the smartphone is opening up the democratisation of medicine, whereby patients have the digital tools they need to take more control over their own care.

“Given the wide level of variability in the penetration of digital health practices, there’s plenty of opportunities for research in this space,” Bain said. “The technology already exists, or is developing in exciting ways that could truly deliver ‘patient-centred care’, but just hasn’t been utilised in consistent, cost-effective and truly transformative ways.”

If you’re interested in discussing digital health research initiatives, contact Professor Bain, Faculty of IT.