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How digital technology is transforming northern Queensland health care

Published 05 May 2023

NQPHN is creating new pathways for better access to quality health care


Digital health technology is transforming primary health care in North Queensland.

Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN) Chief Executive Officer Robin Whyte said digital health technology was creating new health care pathways and giving patients more choices, and access to timely and quality care from health professionals.

It is also reducing the administrative burden for general practitioners (GPs) and health care providers.

“A combination of digital health care, including telehealth and virtual care where appropriate, and collaboration between care providers is the future of health care,” Ms Whyte said.

“NQPHN is rolling out digital health initiatives for First Nations patients, older persons in residential aged care facilities (RACFs), and organisations upgrading and enhancing their digital technology, which puts the patient at the centre of their own health and allows for easier access to timely care.

“Our priority is also to reduce the administrative burden on clinicians, while enabling health information continuity between providers through embracing technology-enabled care, electronic communication, and information sharing.”

Review of current technology for RACFs

NQPHN is working with providers to implement several complementary digital health initiatives that will greatly uplift the sector.

“Digital health, including telehealth and video conferencing for patients, is being increasingly embraced by both primary health care professionals and patients as an effective consultation medium, but it can also be complex,” Ms Whyte said.

“The RACF telehealth project, being undertaken by Enkindle Consulting, works with participating RACF staff to review their hardware and capability to use the technology.

“The aim is to understand the level of maturity at each RACF across priority areas. NQPHN will then provide grants to participating RACFs in the region to upgrade their technology and support their workforce through training.”

Self-assessment and digital capability grants

Ms Whyte said NQPHN’s digital health maturity self-assessment tool, the Digital Maturity Matrix and Digital Maturity Roadmap, were also designed to support primary care providers to understand their current level of digital maturity.

“The Digital Maturity Matrix and roadmap shows general practices where they are on the digital roadmap and the next steps to take to see improvement at each level,” she said.

NQPHN Digital Capability Grant Program applicants complete the self-assessment and, on completion, receive the Digital Maturity Matrix report outlining where they sit on the roadmap.

This current round of grant funding is helping NQPHN understand the baseline digital maturity of general practices, Aboriginal Medical Services (AMSs), pharmacies (MMM 4-7), and allied health clinics in the region.

Ms Whyte said the NQPHN Digital Capability Grants Program aimed to help primary care providers in the region grow and develop a seamless digital health care service for their patients.

INCA is saving GPs time and paperwork

Meanwhile, digital tools are giving health care professionals in the north a more holistic view of patient health through data access.

“We know digital health offers opportunities to improve medical outcomes and enhance efficiency for GPs and patients, which we are seeing with the rollout of the INCA shared-care platform as part the 12-month First Nations Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) program,” Ms Whyte said.

“One of the biggest issues health professionals face is that patient health care plans and information is not automatically available for other clinicians to view.

“The INCA system makes it easier for health care providers to coordinate and manage complex and chronic health conditions in community settings outside of hospital, sharing the individual’s health information quickly and accurately between the patient’s broader health care team.”

Innisfail GP Dr John Di Palma was the first general practice to go live with INCA in October 2022 and calls it a ‘one-stop-shop’ program.

“We have noticed a major increase in First Nations patients using INCA,” Dr Di Palma said. “It’s more visual for patients, which has increased their engagement with health and quality care.

“It is also promoting conversations and identifying areas where allied health services can have input for better health outcomes and has definitely helped to cut down on paperwork time. INCA has enabled our practice nurse to have serious talks with patients and care givers, and input that information into INCA to give a much more holistic picture.”

CQI program to increase digital uptake

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, NQPHN has seen an acceleration in the use of digital technology, but some health professionals are being left behind and may question the value digital technologies provide. 

“Digital tools can only benefit the health sector if they are put to meaningful use by health providers and their patients,” Ms Whyte said.

“NQPHN is currently developing a Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) program to raise awareness of the benefits of using digital technologies, including to decrease the administrative burdens when treating patients with chronic or complex conditions.”

NQPHN will continue working with primary health care providers to ensure they have compatible digital infrastructure, software, and training.

Photo caption: (From left) NQPHN Primary Care Engagement Manager Jenny Burnham, Precedence Health Care National Sales Manager Ben Le Gros, NQPHN Executive Director Health System Integration and Innovation Karin Barron, Precedence Health Care General Manager Grant Williamson, and NQPHN Senior Primary Care Engagement Officer Gilyan Thorn, recently connected to discuss the INCA platform to enhance shared care in North Queensland. Precedence Health Care is the developer of the INCA platform.

Last updated: 05 May 2023