Finding the innovation in e-health for rural allied health service delivery

Professor Teresa Iacono

Aim: e-health, the use of digital technologies for delivering health services, offers the potential for innovation in rural allied health. The aim of this presentation is to review research into e-health in allied health, explore potential applications, and consider how to prepare graduates to develop the digital literacies required for e-health.

Method: This presentation draws on a scoping review, a case study of regional early intervention services for children with autism, and a study into mapping digital literacies of health sciences undergraduate programs.

Results: The scoping review demonstrated that Australian research, largely from two academic units, has contributed to validating the use of various forms of e-health across allied health disciplines and client groups. On the other hand, there was evidence of a reluctance amongst allied health practitioners to embrace e-health, far more so than was evident for client groups. The regional early autism intervention case study provided insights into this reluctance, including a lack of experience with digital technology for service delivery, and difficulty in imagining how it could enhance services. Targeting digital literacies in undergraduate curricula can address this reluctance. Our research has resulted in identifying digital capabilities needed by allied health professionals to use and create through digital technology. Mapping of an undergraduate occupational therapy course revealed existing and potential opportunities in the curriculum to extend students’ digital capabilities.

Conclusion: The potential for e-health to transform service delivery and, thereby, address challenges faced in rural areas, has yet to be realised. Allied health professionals need to re-imagine how e-health can meet health consumer demand for greater utilisation of digital technologies. Digital literacies taught in undergraduate allied health programs will ensure leadership and ongoing innovation in e-health.