Telstra Health’s Strategy Director, Tim Kelsey, saw how Australia is world leading when it comes to digital health at the recent Health Datapalooza conference in Washington DC.

US Vice President Joe Biden looked around the room – an audience of global digital health innovators gathered together last week for the annual Health Datapalooza in Washington DC – and said ‘I want to talk about my son’.

His son, Beau, died of a brain tumour in 2015 – a personal tragedy which has inspired him to lead Cancer Moonshot 2020, a major presidential initiative to speed up discovery of cures for the disease.

The vice president wants researchers to share their data and he wants clinicians to take advantage of digital services to help them beat cancer – but to get there healthcare around the world needs to get the basics right.

He described how he had been to one US hospital with his son who was to have a brain scan where he needed to transmit the image to another specialist centre. The physician told him that wouldn’t be possible because the ‘IT systems don’t talk to each other.’ In the end he had to fly the disc of his son’s MRI scan to the specialist unit. Biden paused and was then outraged: ‘We spent $35bn on making our hospitals digital and they still can’t talk to each other? This matters. This is a matter of life and death.’

Putting data and technology to better use for patients and citizens couldn’t be a more serious priority in the US – as it is in Australia. Last week I chaired the International track of the Datapalooza in partnership with senior colleagues from the US government – a coming together of digital health leaders from countries including Australia, the UK, France, Canada and Israel.

Paul Madden, deputy secretary at the Australian Department of Health responsible for digital health told the meeting how the My Health Record programme – which gives Australians access to their digital medical data – would ‘improve people’s health’.

In many ways, international colleagues agreed, Australia is setting a new standard in digital health; with the launch of two trials to give people access to My Health Record on an ‘opt-out’ basis which will enable Australians to see their personal data securely online and in mobile formats (from July), unless they choose to opt out. So far only around 1% of people have chosen to opt out, Mr Madden told the conference. Both the UK and the US have launched similar programmes – but they remain ‘opt-in’.

Telstra Health is building a new consumer channel which will allow citizens in Australia to take maximum advantage of this government initiative.  This will allow them to upload their My Health Record data into a safe data store where they can use it in a range of connected ways – to check their medicines, to search local services and book appointments and to access care plans.

There will also be a series of unique digital services that will – to offer two examples – support parents to give their children the best start in life, and give people with depression and anxiety access to safe therapies online. It will give customers access to premium services like Readycare and new solutions to support older people remain independent in their homes.

It draws on many of the strengths of existing Telstra Health businesses but will also bring some of the best global services to Australia. As part of it, we are looking to work with some of the most innovative digital brands in the US on this and related customer services.

Biden finished his speech by remembering something his father used to tell him as a child: ‘How lucky is the person who can get out of bed in the morning and stand up on their own two feet and know what they are going to do that day matters.’ He looked around the room and said: ‘Thank you. Thank you all for doing work that matters’.

My colleagues in Telstra Health and I are lucky to be doing work that matters.