Kristen Short, Director of Innovation & Partnerships, Nick McGhie, Digital Health & Data Manager,

Dr. Keith McDonald PHD, CEO, South Western Sydney PHN

Picture this: You’re sitting in a crowded waiting room, clutching a clipboard with endless forms to fill out, feeling frustrated and helpless as you wait for your name to be called. Sounds familiar? For anyone who has ever sought medical care, it likely does. But, thanks to digital health technologies, this picture is quickly changing. From virtual consultations to remote monitoring, digital health is revolutionising the way we receive and perceive healthcare, empowering patients and providers alike. It is also providing solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in healthcare today, such as the high cost of treatment and the shortage of healthcare professionals. By using technology to streamline processes, automate routine tasks, and improve communication between patients and providers, digital health is opening up a world of possibilities that were once unimaginable. 

Leading the charge in this healthcare revolution is South Western Sydney PHN (SWSPHN), an innovative not-for-profit health organization dedicated to supporting general practitioners, practice nurses and other primary health providers to deliver the best possible care for their patients and improve access to quality local health care for the whole community. Established in 2015, SWSPHN, among other things, assists healthcare providers to adopt digital health practices, thereby improving the healthcare system and empowering people to lead healthier lives with greater control and access to critical health information. 

Optimizing Healthcare Delivery through Innovative Strategies 

SWSPHN was one of the 31 primary health networks launched by the Australian Government in 2015 with a vision to enhance patient care and optimize healthcare services. And, the organization strives to accomplish this objective through three distinct approaches. First, it empowers general practitioners, practice nurses, and other primary healthcare providers by providing them with opportunities for capacity building, quality improvement activities, and implementing cutting-edge technology to improve patient care. 

Second, SWSPHN takes a comprehensive approach to commissioning services. This process involves prioritizing the needs of patients in the region, creating a strategic plan, procuring services, and closely monitoring and evaluating the services provided. Finally, it integrates care to foster collaboration between primary care providers and hospitals to improve the experiences of patients, enhance health outcomes, and effectively utilize resources. “Since our organization’s inception, we’ve been able to refine our service provision through extensive consultation across a broad range of community groups, the health and community sector in our region, and collaborating closely with South Western Sydney Local Health District (SWSLHD),” asserts Dr Keith McDonald, the CEO of SWSPHN.

iRAD: A Perfect Interoperability Solution for Healthcare

Since 2017, SWSPHN has been collaborating with Altera Digital Health to create a remarkable healthcare innovation: iRAD (Integrated Real-time Active Data). This cutting-edge interoperability system connects healthcare providers in the region, enabling them to securely and promptly share relevant clinical patient information and ultimately, enhance patient care. With iRAD, healthcare providers gain access to a vast array of patient information, from medications and allergies to pathology and radiology results, immunizations, consultation dates, and even COVID-19-positive alerts. 

Currently, iRAD is operational in over 85 care locations in South Western Sydney, and more than 10,000 patients have granted their consent for their health information to be shared. So far, iRAD has successfully shared data on 65,000 medications, 55,000 conditions, 20,000 documents, and 5,600 procedures. “What sets iRAD apart from other systems is its remarkable ability to filter and organize information into a user-friendly format, eliminating the need for healthcare providers to shift through a multitude of individual documents. And, for even greater convenience, iRAD automatically uploads actions on consented patient records, relieving clinicians and practices from the burden of administrative tasks,” opines Dr Keith.

Above all, iRAD supports coordinated care. Patients with complex conditions and multiple comorbidities often receive care from many providers, and iRAD enables access to the latest information, providing longitudinal patient records to the entire care team. This is especially crucial for patients attending After Hours clinics or those who have difficulty recalling their clinical history due to complex conditions. 

Supporting People with Chronic or Complex Health Needs 

SWSPHN’s My Care Partners initiative, launched in collaboration with South Western Sydney Local Health District in late 2021, is a transformative healthcare program that supports individuals with chronic or complex health needs to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations. The incorporation of iRAD software into all participating practices in the program has been a game-changer, with early results indicating a significant reduction in emergency department visits and hospital admissions. In one instance, a patient with a wound attended a GP practice, and an image of the wound was captured and saved to the iRAD medical record. This enabled the patient’s care team to provide the necessary advice on care and treatment and further prompt the patient towards follow-up actions, thus boosting patient health literacy, medication compliance, and overall care. In another instance, a patient was suspected of having COVID-19 symptoms. Upon accessing the iRAD system, it was discovered that the patient was immobile and had no means of transport. Swiftly, a mobile COVID testing team was arranged to conduct in-home testing, ensuring the patient received prompt and adequate care. 

A Comprehensive, Consultative, and Community-Centered Approach

 At the core of SWSPHN’s mission lies the unwavering commitment to improving the experiences of both healthcare providers and patients alike. Dedicated to serving a vast and diverse community of more than one million people covering the South Western suburbs of metropolitan Sydney and extending south to the Southern Highlands, an area of 6,243sq km, SWSPHN understands that each local government area in their region has a unique set of challenges and opportunities from both a community and healthcare delivery perspective. “South Western Sydney has pockets of socio-economic disadvantage in some parts of the region, and large populations of culturally and linguistically diverse communities in others. Our region also covers the rural and outer metropolitan areas of Wollondilly and the Southern Highlands where access to health services can be challenging,” elucidates Dr Keith.

Thus, to address these unique needs, SWSPHN works closely with healthcare and service providers, as well as the community across the region, to ensure that service priorities are tailored to the local context and grounded in evidence-based practices. This commitment to community engagement and consultation is evident through their comprehensive needs assessment, consultation, and co-design process, which allows stakeholders to shape the programs and commissioned services offered. 

Continues To Innovate and Improve Healthcare Outcomes in the Region

Moving ahead, SWSPHN looks forward to continuing its collaborative efforts with the community, primary care providers, service providers, and SWSLHD to improve health outcomes for individuals in the region. With an unwavering commitment to quality improvement, the organization will continue to empower the 399 general practices under its wing, offering data-driven support and professional development opportunities to further enhance its capabilities. It also plans to work in partnership with SWSLHD to deliver integrated care and build on successful programs like My Care Partners, care finder, and diabetes case conferencing. 

By streamlining its planning, contract management, and compliance processes, the organization will continue to expand its range of commissioned services, prioritizing the unique needs of the region. As for iRAD, the platform’s success has been a game-changer, providing clinicians with access to critical medical information that allows for quicker and more informed decisions. Currently, in the scale-up phase, SWSPHN plans to bring iRAD to even more clinicians and patients by partnering with additional PHNs and state-based health services. “We are an organization that rolls up its sleeves to do the hard work, while always with an eye open for opportunities to innovate and expand our service offerings for South Western Sydney,” concludes Dr Keith.