Are we entering the age of digital healthcare?

September 30, 2015
Digital healthcare technology is becoming more common in modern society.


The future is undoubtedly here. We are living in an increasingly advanced nation, where technology is becoming more and more important in our society. Telephones and fax machines have evolved into smartphones (which around 78 per cent of Australians own, according to Statista), we are seeing the introduction of driverless cars (with South Australia even recently introducing legislation to allow this), and the healthcare sector is become less like the old days, and more like science fiction.

So what does modern day digital health technology actually look like? Let’s examine what’s happening around Australia and New Zealand.

Video games for older people

Once, video games were considered a child’s toy. However, this is far from the case now.

A recent report from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, written in conjunction with Bond University, shed light on the prevalence of video games in modern, older society. In fact, 43 per cent of Kiwis aged 65 years and over have played them, with 17 per cent aged 85 and over. For many, the main reason for playing is to simply pass the time and to be entertained. However, mental stimulation, increasing social connections, fighting dementia and even reducing arthritis were all factors as well.

Connected care solutions

Many carers around both Australia and New Zealand are turning to companies such as Tunstall Healthcare for a range of connected care solutions. This assistive technology can be used around a client’s home – be they older, suffering from disability or another ailment – to either keep an eye on their condition from afar, and to help them feel more independent.

This can be particularly useful for community nurses and other travelling professionals in regional areas, where clients may not have easy access to their GP. Home health monitoring can offer help ranging anywhere from alerting clients when the phone rings to sensing falls, detecting when a dementia sufferer leaves the home or a variety of other areas.

Using analytical data to improve healthcare

In the business world, ‘big data’ – analytical figures based, in this context, on customer purchases and habits – is regularly used to help predict a customer’s needs before they need them. Generally this is used to build loyalty to a brand. In contemporary Australia, the federal government is slowly piecing together a similar databank that could be used to better monitor the health needs of Australians.

“An example where we’ve done some work is our patient admission prediction tool,” said CEO of CSIRO’s eHealth Research Centre David Hansen. “This predicts, based on historical data, how many patients are going to turn up in the emergency department and how many will go on to need a bed.”

The subject of analytical data is also the focus of the annual Health Informatics Society Australia (HISA) Big Data conference, which will be discussing personalised medicine and consumer-collected data at the October, 2015 event.

Virtual GPs

Though pressing a button to turn on your holographic doctor may still be a number of years away, virtual GP visits are being introduced even now. Many services nowadays, such as Tunstall’s myclinic telehealth hub, offer video conferencing options to connect doctors and their clients, thus eliminating the need for healthcare workers to travel to someone’s house, or for that someone to travel to their nearest practice.

This also benefits people in regional areas where access to a local GP may not always be practical, though governing health bodies are still figuring out what rules to put in place around the subject. However, despite its infancy, virtual GP visits are an exciting prospect that could help a wide variety of people in the future, so it’ll be interesting to see how the technology and legislation progresses.

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