Dr Evelyn Hovenga AM has been recognised for her extensive and diverse career in digital health, founding and leading many organisations that have formed a foundation for Australian digital health activities.

More recently, Dr Hovenga AM was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia by the Governor General for her significant service to medicine through health informatics and digital transformation.

Evelyn joined us for an interview in February 2024.

1. Congratulations on receiving a Member of the Order for Australia. What does this recognition mean for you?

Recognition of the importance of Health Informatics and Digital Health.  It’s also important to realise that my career began in Nursing and Nursing Informatics. I’m proud to have been able to provide leadership in this space to a small group of Victorian nurses that began in 1985. Collectively we initiated and supported each other to address the many challenges faced along the way. I’d also like to acknowledge the significant contribution made by Joan Edgecumbe (deceased) who was the only nurse from this original group who supported me for 25 plus years. Her dedication and persistence was exemplary. I would also like to thank Dr Amy Zelmer who provided me with the opportunity to continue my contributions via academia in 1992. Central Queensland University enabled me to represent academia at the newly established Standards Australia IT/14 committee which in turn provided opportunities for participation in HL7 and ISO committees. I’m very grateful to all the people I’ve worked with nationally and internationally over the last 40 years. They’ve all left a mark on my continuing learning journey. I could not have achieved this without their input.

2. What advice would you give to new or aspiring digital healthcare professionals?

Continue to make use of your passions and unique area of health/clinical knowledge, learn about what new digital technologies have to offer and explore how these can best support your disciplinary area of interest within the context of the wider digital health ecosystem. Engage with others from any discipline, nationally and internationally. Take advantage of opportunities you become aware of and invest in your own learning journey.

In my case I began with nursing and health administration. I learned about health informatics by first undertaking computer studies, then by participating in technical standards development activities and by accepting an invitation to be part of an International nursing informatics group (IMIA NI). Throughout  I was able to question and learn from many people who had a variety of expert knowledge, skills and practical experiences. We were collectively engaged in developing standards or guidelines best able to provide solutions for identified issues. I’ve worked with Health economists, software engineers, application designers, developers, software architectural specialists, physicists, electrical engineers, librarians, programmers, philosophers, medical and other clinical practitioners from numerous specialties, health service managers, policy developers, computer scientists, mathematicians, statisticians, researchers, educators, network managers, multimedia developers, terminologists, bureaucrats and more.

3. Do you have any predictions on what the future holds for digital health?

Widespread use of digital technologies has the potential to improve health system performance overall but is dependent on effective national governance and leadership. Australia has a long way to go and is in dire need of major transformational investments that do not rely on the continuing use of legacy systems. Our current digital health ecosystem is not fit for purpose and is unable to support trustworthy generative AI for clinical use. That requires a new approach.


4. What do you think are the most important areas for future investment and focus in the sector?

To maximise the value of digital health we need to:

  • Reduce the very significant digital health knowledge gap amongst decision makers (procurement, policy, governance, investors) and the health workforce as a whole plus importantly educators (those producing new health professional graduates)
  • Adopt health and digital health ecosystem wide thinking to enable source data to flow seamlessly across the entire data supply chain in a manner to benefit all users, including precision medicine.
  • Greater attention to health data governance and management, greater collaboration amongst all disciplines and sectors.
  • Updated legislation to support a new national high level governance infrastructure. This needs to support the use of a national open platform, key high level mandated standards supporting all necessary data flows to suit the entire health data supply chain and all possible use cases. There needs to be flexibility to be able to accommodate new medical (clinical) and technical advances as they occur at minimal cost.

5. What has been the highlight of your career?

Gaining promotion to become the first Australian Professor in Health Informatics.

6. What can we look forward to seeing you achieve or work on next?

I would love to see widespread adoption of the ISO 18104 Health Informatics – Categorial structures for representation of nursing practice in terminological systems that I recently reviewed and updated. It was published December 2023. This is key towards making the value of nursing services visible. This concept is poorly understood by the nursing profession as whole.

I’m continuing to work on a part time basis in the education space, mentoring, undertaking course development, publications and research but I’m now well over my retirement age! We need new graduates to take up this banner to make it happen.

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