3 perspectives on digital health disruptions in Queensland

“The impacts of digital health are pervasive, and already influencing the education and training needs for a significant component of the more than one million people who comprise the health workforce”.
National Digital Health Workforce and Education Roadmap, 2020.

The healthcare industry is changing rapidly in response to digital technology innovations, the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, and increasing healthcare needs. These changes affect clinical roles and functions, and how individual professionals and teams operate; but they also affect patient outcomes.

Dr Robyn Littlewood is the CEO of Health and Wellbeing Queensland, and an industry partner of the UQ Future of Health research hubrobyn-littlewood

“Questioning why we’re doing something is the most important and most difficult thing to do as a clinician because you want to do the right thing, but you’re also trained to be risk adverse,” she says.

“To tackle the current healthcare challenges, we need completely different skills. We need healthcare professionals that are more than just a doctor, a nurse, or a dietician. You can be the best in your field, but without understanding the data and costs, the future will be incredibly hard for you.”

Dr Littlewood says there are currently 3 major health and wellbeing challenges prevalent in Queensland:

  1. Obesity
  2. Chronic disease
  3. Inequity

For example, in Australia, 2 in 3 adults are overweight or living with obesity. There are now 1 in 4 children who are overweight or living with
obesity, when only a short time ago it was 1 in 100. A survey of 2000 people across Australia found that 1 in 2 of us have put on weight over
the last year since the pandemic started, while 1 in 5 has put on over 5kg. Patients with COVID-19 that are overweight or obese are more likely
to be hospitalised, require ventilation, and have a higher chance of fatality.

These problems aren't new, but they're getting worse - quickly. 

Dr Littlewood says, “It’s clear what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked. And that’s our evidence to support change”.


Through different lenses, learn how different digital disruptions are changing the health industry and how to embrace these changes to
improve processes, service experiences, and patient outcomes.

1. Digital collection and coding of patient data can offer great insights

dr-tanya-kellyDr Tanya Kelly is the Clinical Director for Digital Transformation at the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, Senior  Staff Specialist Anaesthetist, Chair of the Queensland Clinical Senate, and is a UQ MBA graduate. She says the move from clinicians using paper notes to digitally collecting and sharing data that can be coded is a significant disruption to the healthcare industry that has long-reaching positive effects.

Tanya suggests that clinician driven business intelligence that enables cohort level clinical oversight can reduce variations in practice and ultimately improve patient outcomes. For instance, she says that while bespoke care provides one element of care, clinicians can provide higher reliability care by understanding how wider patient cohorts move through the pathways of care and to better identify opportunities for improvement. Having access to patient cohort data also means practice, variation, and outcomes can be visible in real time and allows clinicians to be more agile as evidence changes.

For example, if they can see a particular process or treatment is no longer effective based on oversight of patient cohort data, they can move to understand this further in order to pivot and change tactics.

2. Access to quality digital technology, systems, training, and support

To provide clinicians with access to comprehensive, quality data sufficient to make clinical decisions, it’s important to have the latest technology and systems. It’s also important to provide staff training on how to collect, store and analyse data.


Dr Mark Nelson is the Director of Physiotherapy at QEII Hospital (MSHHS), UQ alumnus, and research partner of the UQ Future of Health research hub. His research into the adoption of telehealth found that despite a surge during the pandemic, adoption of telehealth services dipped when lockdowns and restrictions eased in 2021. This downward trend is because the challenges associated with telehealth, originally identified before COVID-19, still haven’t been rectified.

One of the most significant challenges to telehealth uptake is the lack of easy-to-use systems and equipment, as well as adequate training and clinician access to administrative support.

As Mark says, “It only takes a few extra steps in a process for people to say it’s too hard and stop using it”.  

Telehealth is an important disruption to the healthcare industry, with patient benefits including access, convenience, and choice. But to standardise telehealth services, we need to address the identified challenges and make it easier for clinicians to use.

3. Improve processes to protect clinicians and patients from data breaches

dr-saeed-akhlaghpourDigital transformation of health services brings about new risks. Did you know medical records are worth more than credit card details on the dark web? This is because digital health records can’t be cancelled or changed like credit cards can. They can be used for fraudulent insurance claims, forging prescriptions, and more.

Dr Saeed Akhlaghpour is a data protection, privacy, and cybersecurity expert at UQ who has a particular interest in the transformation of healthcare services and digital health. 

He says the walls between the IT and healthcare disciplines are collapsing, and cybersecurity threats in the healthcare industry can have serious consequences, including patient death.

According to a recent IBM survey, the cost of data breaches over the last 11 years has been the highest for the health  industry at $9 million per breach. On top of that, there can be penalties applied to organisations for failing to comply with data protection standards. In Australia, the current maximum penalty is $1.2 million. However, like many countries around the world, Australia is looking to bring its privacy act more in line with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which has fines of up to €20 million (about $29 million) or 4% of annual global turnover (whichever is greater) and a breach notice period of 72 hours compared to 1 month, the current notice period in Australia.

To protect patient data and protect themselves from crippling fines, healthcare professionals and organisations need to improve data collection, storage, and protection processes that meet the demand of such regulations.


To get the future of healthcare right and improve patient outcomes by embracing digital disruption, Dr Littlewood says it’s important all parties, from universities, private organisations, state and federal governments and schools, work together.

In addition, she says it’s important to consider barriers to equity, establish frameworks that address these barriers and ensure equity considerations are incorporated into everything clinicians do.

She says, “In the past, we’ve failed because we haven’t done it together. The solution isn’t to do anything drastically new, just to bring everything together.”