eHealth technologies and solutions offer the Australian healthcare system significant benefits, from better collaboration between practitioners and continuity of care, through to better efficiencies and quality of care. Realising these benefits, however, requires a high degree of connectivity and coordination between numerous players within a complex health ecosystem.
Allied health practitioners are critical information and delivery hubs within that health ecosystem. As a body, allied health contains a broad spectrum of work practices, care provision processes, proximity to primary care, education and accreditation requirements, and public or private sector engagement. They play crucial roles in episodic intervention and care, ongoing patient education and management in support of chronic conditions, diagnosis and transfer to further therapy, amongst much more. Their engagement is essential to promote eHealth use and health outcomes across the system. Yet insufficient research exists on their use of eHealth applications, on their attitudes to current and intended future eHealth uses, and on how to drive further adoption and use.
This report sets out the findings of significant new research on the use of, and attitudes towards eHealth (the combined use of electronic communication and technology in healthcare) among the 15 major sectors of allied health practitioners prioritised by the Department – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, audiologists, chiropractors, dental allied health professionals, dietitians, exercise physiologists, occupational therapists, optometrists, osteopaths, physiotherapists, podiatrists, psychologists, radiographers and sonographers, social workers and speech pathologists.
Our research has been framed around three “anchor” questions:
- Are Australian allied health practitioners ready to adopt and use eHealth technologies and solutions, today and in a way consistent with policy direction in the future?
- What are the barriers impacting eHealth readiness and adoption and how can we minimise them?
- What are the eHealth enablers and how can we apply them to drive adoption and effective usage?
To answer these questions, we analysed the eHealth readiness of Australia’s allied health practitioners along three dimensions: their infrastructural readiness (their IT hardware and connections, as well as the software and solutions available to them); their aptitudinal readiness (depth of skills and capability to use eHealth solutions); and their attitudinal readiness (willingness to use current and future eHealth solutions).
We conducted 20 initial qualitative interviews to design a quantitative survey, ran that survey with 1,125 allied health practitioners, and interviewed a further 21 practitioners in-depth on the themes that emerged from the survey. The quantitative survey was targeted at a random sample of 6,500 practitioners across the 15 professions, designed to incorporate geographic and demographic stratifications, and secured a response rate of 17.3%. All questions within the survey were mandatory. The sample sizes achieved imply an error of estimation of approximately 11% at the 95% confidence level for sector-level analyses. While the sample was designed to capture key demographic lenses, for analysis purposes the responses have been weighted such that responses, and the high-level results drawn from them, are representative of the allied health population as a whole.
The high-level findings are that, though attitudes vary, most allied health practitioners see the potential benefits of eHealth to their practice and health outcomes, and can and will use well-designed solutions if the perceived benefits clearly outweigh the costs and barriers. Self-contained administrative, research, professional education and note viewing applications are already being widely used. However, when considering more networked, care-focussed solutions, most practitioners see the potential costs and barriers currently outweighing the benefits.
Attitudes to eHealth vary between allied health professions, reflecting to some extent the differences between the professions, the services they provide and the applications that would prove most useful to each. Yet each profession contains eHealth early adopters and enthusiasts, as well as risk-averse and eHealth resistant practitioners. These variations underscore the need for engagement that accurately responds to practitioner perceptions of benefits and barriers, and to the drivers that will influence them. To better understand attitudinal differences, our research went deeper into an attitudes-based analysis across all allied health sectors. This revealed six separate groups of allied health practitioners, distinct “clusters” in their potential eHealth engagement, which occur across the practitioner sectors. Each cluster exhibited differences in perceived benefits, perceived barriers and the likely enablers that will drive their use and adoption of eHealth practices and solutions.
This report works through the above analysis. It opens by identifying the 15 allied health sectors that we researched, and by detailing their current and expected future uses of eHealth solutions. The report then sets out the readiness of allied health practitioners to use eHealth solutions now and in the future. Through our analysis of the six attitudinal clusters that exist across allied health, and the eHealth benefits and barriers they perceive. Finally, we demonstrate how these cluster insights should be used in developing a strategy for eHealth adoption - determining the interventions most likely to be effective, and set out a considered approach to applying those interventions.
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