Refugee immunisation app, which could save lives, wins Random Hacks of Kindness

Refugee immunisation app, which could save lives, wins Random Hacks of Kindness

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Christopher Smeed

A new app that tackles the very real problem of doctors being too time-poor to work out which immunisations newly arrived refugees need, and to what schedule, has just taken out the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) gong in Brisbane.

Developed by pioneering not-for-profit GP clinic Inala Primary Care in partnership with hackers, the app replaces a complicated set of guidelines on different vaccines, and details the doses and combinations required for various ages.

With 18,000 refugees to be settled in Australia in the next 12 months and hundreds of thousands of migrants also arriving, the app could save lives by stopping preventable diseases such as hepatitis B and liver cancer, as well as benefiting Australia’s overstretched health system and the health of the whole population.

The automation of this complicated but vital calculation cuts hours of work per week – hours which are not reimbursed by Medicare – meaning the app also has the potential to increase the number of general practices willing to support newly arrived refugees.

What next for Inala Primary Care?

With the valuable proof of concept tool up and running, Inala Primary Care is now seeking partners and funders to help roll it out as a national solution.

RHoK Brisbane is the local arm of a global not-for-profit movement of social hackers coding for good. Twice a year, altruistic volunteers from the IT community come together to produce practical open-source solutions to problems affecting the world. Inala Primary Care turned to RHoK to develop a solution to automate and schedule immunisation.

A team of skilled volunteers, including developers, programmers, business analysts, marketers, designers and project managers leveraged the clinical knowledge of Inala Primary Care’s doctors, administration and nursing staff.

Australian health software leader Best Practice also provided access to its code to enable the app to integrate with electronic medical records (EMR) used in general practices to simplify the tracking and recording of subsequent immunisations until the patient is up to date.

Inala Primary Care delivers more than 34,000 patient appointments each year, including thousands of immunisations, in a community rated amongst Queensland’s 12 most disadvantaged. The pioneering clinic is a big believer in using technology to automate processes within a practice so doctors can focus on helping patients.

What is the story behind this refugee immunisation app?

The app is the brainchild of Inala Primary Care’s director of finance and business development Chris Smeed, who spent five years learning about how innovation and technology can improve patient care. In the process, he has become a novice programmer and system developer.

Mr Smeed said it was critical for refugees and other migrants to catch up with immunisations on arrival, but the problem was widely ignored as it takes more time to deliver than is reimbursed by Medicare.

“Refugees settling in Australia are very aware of the consequences of illnesses, which is why they are among the most willing of patients when it comes to catch-up immunisations,” Mr Smeed said.

“But the current manual nature of this checking and the complexity of finalising an immunisation plan means many GPs do not feel they have the time or competence to complete the work. This leaves some of society’s most vulnerable at risk of developing preventable diseases.

“We are a small organisation doing the hard work most general practices see as too complex or costly to perform. Saving time with immunisation means we can give more attention to other patient needs.”

Working with the RHoK team on the solution also opened the door to the potential to automate other clinical processes.

“Leveraging technology is increasingly important in an environment where more patients have two or more conditions and are being prescribed multiple medications. Clinicians need soft skills in dealing with patients, clinical knowledge based on hard science and smart solutions to support them to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

“Making sure more of our population is effectively immunised protects us all. We need at least 96 per cent of our community to be up to date with vaccinations to prevent infectious diseases from spreading.”

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