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The future of digital health

In partnership with Dr Hamish Black

What the future of health means for you

Middle aged mum with curly hair wearing her pyjamas and partaking in a telehealth GP consult on her laptop
Middle aged mum with curly hair wearing her pyjamas and partaking in a telehealth GP consult on her laptop

Digital health broadly refers to the different technologies used to diagnose and treat patients, as well as the tech that we use to interact with health professionals.

You’ve likely used digital health already ­– from dialling into a telehealth appointment or having an online skin check, to receiving scripts and accessing your health records and information online.

Put simply, nib Group Medical Advisor Dr Hamish Black says it’s about harnessing technology to enhance healthcare and make the health system more efficient.

“Digital health is the field of medicine that uses digital technology to improve patient outcomes beyond what we do in conventional medicine,” he says.

“Ideally, digital health should lead to better patient outcomes, and at a lower cost,” he adds.

Common types of digital health you’ve probably used

Some of the common ways Australians use digital health include:

  • receiving SMS reminders about medical appointments

  • attending appointments via telehealth (over the phone) and video (online)

  • using fitness trackers and wellness apps or wearable devices (such as watches)

  • receiving scripts online

  • accessing My Health Record

  • using Medicare online

  • being treated with machines that use advanced medical imaging, as well as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) technology

  • going online for information about managing symptoms and illness

Related: How to access and claim on telehealth appointments

How is digital health evolving?

The COVID-19 pandemic “hugely helped” Australians engage with digital health, Hamish notes, with lockdowns requiring patients and health professionals to change the way they interact with each other.

Meanwhile, wearable devices, such as watches that monitor activity levels and blood pressure, have gained popularity in recent years. Hamish says the information gained through these devices will become increasingly accurate and helpful as the technology advances.

This ability to gain accurate and regular information is improving how long-term diseases are managed, Hamish notes – take type 1 diabetes as an example.

“Patients used to have to have finger-prick glucose tests and insulin injections at least four times a day,” he explains.

“Now, once they are initially stabilised on insulin, their blood glucose levels can be continually monitored through a patch placed on the skin. It provides 24/7 feedback to an insulin pump that gives a more accurate dose of insulin dependent on the blood glucose level.”

What’s next for digital health?

Technological innovation, especially for machines used to detect and treat disease and illness, will be a major driver in future digital health capabilities.

Hamish says that advancements in genome technology ­– already used for genetic testing to understand inherited health risks – will help provide more individualised treatment.

Advancements in AI, Hamish adds, will improve health screening and disease detection, and reduce diagnostic and treatment errors. Meanwhile, developments in robotic technology and minimally invasive techniques will lead to better surgery and recovery outcomes. 

In many ways, the future of digital health is unlimited. “There is so much more that can be done in this area,” Hamish says. “Anything that reduces the burden of chronic disease on our economy will be enthusiastically supported.”

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. 

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black

In partnership with

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black has been a medical practitioner for more than 25 years. In addition to his role as nib group medical advisor, he still spends two days a week practising as a GP. He has spent many years working in emergency departments and in rural Australia, including a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Hamish also loves karaoke and dancing (though not that well at either, he says!), with Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry being his karaoke favourite.