App combines symptom checker, health info and service finder

Healthdirect Australia has launched a new app for iOS and Android devices that combines the health service finder functionality of the National Health Services Directory (NHSD) with a clinically validated symptom checker and trusted health information sourced from Australia's leading health organisations.

The healthdirect app uses GPS to help users locate their nearest general practice, pharmacist or hospital and also displays latitude and longitude coordinates that can be relayed to triple zero in case of emergency. It also shows users the address of the nearest emergency department.

Using Google Maps, the app will pinpoint the selected type of health service and display a pop-up containing the name, address, phone number, distance and whether it is open or shut. Users can also browse in list view and see whether a clinic bulk bills, for example.

The symptom checker lists an extensive array of potential conditions but also common ones such as fever, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting or chest and back pain. It runs users through an assessment of symptoms and can make a recommendation on self-care or whether to consult a GP or call emergency services immediately.

Healthdirect Australia general manager for digital services Anton Donker said the new app was unique for its combination of a national directory of health services, a symptom checker and searchable health information that has been tailored for local conditions and terminology.

Professor Donker said the symptom checker technology had first been developed by the UK National Health Service, which has based it on years of experience with telephone advice lines as well as clinically validated information provided by medical professionals.

“In world terms, I'm not aware of anywhere in the world that brings together that sort of combination,” he said. “A national directory of any quality is rare in itself. The symptom checker we did in conjunction with the NHS with Australian clinical content and standards, and added bites and stings. It is world-class as a symptom checker.”

Figures from Hitwise show that there are more than 12 million online health searches a week in Australia, but of those, about 78 per cent go straight to offshore sites.

Healthdirect's health information search function provides numerous links to validated online health information provided by Australian organisations such as the Asthma Foundation, the state cancer councils and the state and territory governments. There are also links to quality third-party sources providing Australian information.

While Healthdirect has had these capabilities on its website for a couple of years, it has now been optimised for mobile devices through the app, Professor Donker said.

“Our stats are showing that more than two-thirds of health inquiries are now coming from mobile devices,” he said. “We have had a 'do mobile first' for quite a while now and that is really fundamental across the internet landscape.

“Our decision to invest in a mobile app was made easy by the increasing number of Australians moving to mobile as their preferred communication platform. It’s a natural evolution to our Healthdirect service, as our core role is to help people manage their own health through use of innovative technology. It is the combination of these three things in one app that people have really been after.”

He said while he thought the front end of the app was pretty good – it will be refined as feedback comes in – it is the power in the back end that is the difference.

“In the back end there is a directory, a seriously good decision support system with lots of clinical decision support, and information that is well tested and designed and audited.”

Professor Donker said the app would be marketed by its state and territory health department shareholders but mainly through word of mouth from clinicians.

Healthdirect is also working to ensure that any errors in the NHSD can be fixed quickly. Professor Donker said the directory currently contains about 350,000 entries and the Healthdirect team was changing about 1500 entries a day as clinicians move between jobs and locations.

Any authorised person can amend their details online but Healthdirect also conducts checks through professional organisations, Primary Health Networks, state health departments and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

“Each individual clinic or authorised person – it's usually the practice manager – they can [make corrections] online, but we know that doesn't work that well for many providers,” he said.

“It works well for pharmacists who use it because it gets people in the door, but specialists for example, they've got a full book and people queued up outside their door, and they don't need more so often they don't care if their details are that accurate or not.

“So we work with the PHNs ... if the practice has said yes, my PHN can maintain information on my behalf, that's another check. We work with the professional organisations and we check with AHPRA for credentialing. We check with the HI Service and we check with Medicare. And then there are consumers. You can see a pharmacy was there yesterday and it has gone today or something is not quite right.

“Literally every screen on the directory has a 'log a change' button. The in-house team then goes and checks with the owner of the record. With healthcare providers, [details] change regularly and we are working to automate that with clinical systems so that is reflected in the NHSD. It will get a lot better over the years.”

The healthdirect app is available on the App Store and Google Play.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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