Primary Health Networks: Paving the way to better health.

Chronic disease affects more than 50% of Australians and our health system is feeling the pressure. In response, the Australian government is investigating new and better ways to deliver patient care.

Chronic health conditions – such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease – require complex, multidisciplinary responses from networks of providers across the health system. Current communication between primary health services is too often disjointed, and this isn’t unique to Australia. According to the WHO, one of the most common patient complaints revolves around not feeling properly informed about their treatment.

Team-based digital care

A proposed solution involves marrying a more patient-centred model of care with the digitisation of health information. In Australia, the new approach is being led by Primary Health Networks, who are currently trialing a new patient care model, the Health Care Home.

Based on the UK’s Primary Care Homes, Health Care Homes are designed to provide clarity and support throughout patient treatment or ongoing management of chronic disease. A Health Care Home will operate from a ‘home base’, usually a GP, and aims to streamline the process of care through team-based disease management and the digitisation of health care records – known commonly as My Health Records or more simply e-health.

Here, Primary Health Networks face a substantial task. Behaviour change is no easy feat, even less so when the proposed change has received an avalanche of criticism from both the media and respected professionals in the health field.

Fear of the unknown.

First introduced in 2012, the uptake of e-health records has been slow from both the clinicians and the general public. Privacy remains the primary concern of the general public, with many people feeling uneasy at the prospect of their private information being uploaded to the internet, a place many people, particularly older generations, still find confusing and complex.

The system has improved over the years; however, it is still far from perfect with many practitioners rejecting the software due to its clunky user experience and poor tools for ensuring continuity of care from clinician to clinician.

Currently, 20% of the population is signed up to My Health Record. This year the government will introduce an opt-out scheme for the Australian public. However, Primary Health Networks will still need to mobilise people to use the system. Practitioner participation will remain voluntary and, despite the introduction of financial incentives over the past year, Primary Health Networks will have a hard time convincing them of its validity.

How to change it.

Both Health Care Homes and e-health records have the potential to greatly revolutionise Australia’s health care system, improving the quality of patient care and easing pressure on health care providers. To change culture and, in turn, behaviour, Primary Health Networks must take a long-term strategic approach to build trust and encourage participation from patients, practitioners and frontline staff.

Forced behaviour change will never be effective. Primary Health Networks need to take the time to address the diversity of our population by listening to the real and perceived needs of local communities, developing communication strategies that clarify the benefits, address perceived risks and build a positive story of change through the transition to digital.

A research informed approach will introduce Health Care Homes as a positive change, improving health outcomes and driving down the cost of Australia’s health system.

Talk to us about the changes to primary health and how to identify the opportunities.