E-chatting about digital health to vulnerable populations

Neelima Choahan

5/10/2018 2:02:53 PM

Dr Melinda Choy is hoping her research will make a difference.

Dr Melinda Choy believes it is important that we don’t leave vulnerable people behind as we try to improve health systems.
Dr Melinda Choy believes it is important that we don’t leave vulnerable people behind as we try to improve health systems.

What attracts Dr Melinda Choy to research is doing things that haven’t been done before, and making a difference in healthcare.
Dr Choy has been awarded the RACGP Foundation/IPN Medical Centres Research Grant, which supports GPs and general practice registrars to conduct medical research into primary healthcare and develop research career pathways.
Titled, eHealth and disadvantage: A mixed methods study exploring how patients with chronic disease experience eHealth, Dr Choy’s project is an extension of the work she has been doing during her academic post at the Australian National University.

‘I’m interested in the therapeutic relationship and vulnerable populations,’ she told newsGP. ‘The project I’m doing at the moment as part of my academic post ­… is looking at e-chat, which is a digital health tool.
‘Basically, it’s a survey that patients fill in on an iPad in the waiting room, which includes stuff like alcohol and drug use, mental and physical health questionnaire items. It goes on a secure server and the doctor then reads it before picking up the patient.
‘So in the time the doctor is reading the old patient notes, they would also read a “snap shot” of where the patient is at that time.’
Dr Choy is trialling that app in practices that serve more vulnerable populations, such as refugees or substance-dependent people. The research has led to a broader literature review of access and the patient experience.
‘In this year’s project, I was measuring the patient experience, but also the effects that doing this survey has on the relationship between the patient and the doctor, which is mostly from the patient’s point of view,’ she said.
‘Whether that be if they trust their doctor more because their doctor has more information, or the consultation goes faster so the doctor has more time to focus on them. Or does it makes them more honest, or does it have any effect at all?’
That led to an in-depth look into how vulnerable populations experienced digital health in general.
‘So looking at information online about their health, or booking with a doctor online, or using a smartphone app that promotes health, etcetera,’ Dr Choy said.
‘I started a narrative review on that and presented at the PHCRIS Primary Healthcare Conference. Then, when the grants came, up I realised that I wanted to keep going with what I was doing because I was enjoying the academic post so much.
‘So a good step off from my narrative review was finding that there was a very robust mixed-message information about how people experience digital health. There’s lots of snap-shot surveys and a few interview studies, but I wanted to combine those two, which is how I designed the project that I got the grant for.’
Dr Choy’s future plans include finishing her Master’s in Clinical Epidemiology at Sydney University and to continue teaching and research.
‘I really like research paired with clinical work because I get to do general practice and to think about it at the same time,’ she said.
‘It’s exciting to be a part of something to hopefully help  improve things on a wider scale. For me, that’s the most exciting part of research, being able to do things that haven’t been done yet and can make a difference.
‘I feel like this project is a good opportunity in such an emerging space, and it’s so important that we don’t leave people behind as we try and improve health systems.’

academic post general practice research RACGP Foundation

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