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Personal health data drives healthcare change

Think your Fitbit is just giving you helpful reminders and personal health data? Think again. Deakin expert, Associate Professor Paul Cooper, explains how Fitbit habits, and other trends, are reshaping Australian healthcare.

New technologies are transforming health care capabilities, as well as consumer expectations and behaviours (think Dr Google and Fitbit data). So how do health care administrators keep up? What knowledge and skills do they need to respond effectively to current and future transformations?

Associate Professor of Health Informatics at Deakin, Dr Paul Cooper, says it will be increasingly important for health care administrators and managers to be on top of the array of external forces shaping service capabilities, operations, and patient behaviour.

Associate Professor Paul Cooper

“Technological innovations are influencing how things can be done. There are the emerging capabilities in AI; the use of dashboards and portals; and more and more people wanting to bring their own information into the equation – with data drawn from devices like Fitbits.

“Many issues arise from these changes, for example privacy and security, and interoperability – how systems and data can be integrated across multiple platforms and agencies.”

Assoc. Prof. Cooper chairs the Health Informatics unit in Deakin’s Master of Business Administration (Healthcare Management) and is a highly recognised health informatician, medical researcher, and business and IT strategist.

His unique combination of academic and industry experience – particularly his involvement in the national digital health record system and as Victoria’s Digital Health Officer — gives particular value to the expertise he shares .

The units covered in Deakin’s unique healthcare-focused MBA reflect the fact that many in the sector sense the importance of grasping the technological side of things, he says.

“That being said, health care is a very human-centred profession, so humans must remain the central focus."

“Most of the students doing the course don’t have any grounding in IT, so we are bringing them up to speed. But we put a lot of emphasis on the human side and on understanding change processes. Because people are the fundamental aspect in any system change or implementation.”

Assoc. Prof. Cooper says involving users all the way through system design and implementation in a process known as co-design is greatly reducing the number of ‘implementation fails’ in healthcare. 

Previously millions of dollars could be spent on a new technological platform, but inadequate involvement with the people who would use the system would result in failure.

Co-design is introduced to students through theory and practice in the Health Informatics Unit.

Another issue facing the sector is that the technologies will only be as powerful as trust in the quality of data and how it will be used.

While consumers are understandably cautious about who has access to their health data (and for what purpose), Assoc. Prof. Cooper says it is unfortunate that the mistrust born out of social media data breaches has blown back on government.

“Ironically and sadly, while the mistrust hasn’t really impacted on social media companies that much, it has backfired in other areas including national digital health systems.  There is now an anxiety about security that bleeds through into digital health projects, so we equip our students with a grounding in privacy and security principles.”

The new wave of changes in health care will be driven to a large degree by the consumer, which comes with advantages and risks, he says.

“We are dealing with a very different consumer world now. People won’t just accept things from on high anymore. In one way, patients are potentially more knowledgeable, which is a benefit, but there is also a greater potential for them to be misled. So curated information will be another important area in these changing times.”

Deakin's MBA (Healthcare Management) is jointly run and managed by the Deakin Business School and the School of Medicine. It offers the best of both worlds for those seeking a career in senior management – the core of Deakin's MBA program and highly relevant, tailored health units.

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