In this eighth episode of HIMSS Australia Digital Dialogue Series hosted by Tim Kelsey Senior Vice President of HIMSS Analytics International and guest speakers- Steve Hambleton (Deputy Chair of the Primary Healthcare Reform Steering Committee and Adjunct Professor), Martin Bowles AO PSM (National Chief Executive Officer, Cavalry Health Care), Dr Louise Schaper (Chief Executive, Australasian Institute of Digital Health) and Prof Mary Foley (Managing Director, Telstra Health) share more about the implications which COVID-19 has had on digital health as well as the obstacles encountered whilst implementing telehealth across Australia.
Digital Challenges Faced by Australia during this pandemic
Healthcare in Australia, as compared to other industries has taken a much longer time to digitalize. Hambleton referred to this phenomenon as “clinical inertia” within Australia and added that, “we certainly get things set up things in a way which we like to practice and it is very difficult to move from there unless there is a burning platform.”
As such, there is a need to deduce what the various drivers are in order to remove this inertia. This includes funding which is currently lacking in the healthcare industry in Australia as well as the ease of access and usability of new technology. Healthcare providers often have to rely on software providers to make it seamless and ease their transition into telehealth.
In addition, in order to reap the best possible results from telehealth, there is a need for video conferencing between patients and healthcare providers. However, majority of such telehealth interactions are over the telephone and this results in connections between the parties which are not as rich a communication vehicle as compared to video. There is also a need to make such digital opportunities accessible and user-friendly for the elderly in Australia.
Hambleton said, “Australia has the second highest penetration of smartphones around the world and that we need to use those tools to connect with our patients.” With telehealth, it is now easier for patients to have a consultation with their healthcare professionals with e-prescribing services. A token can be generated which patients transit to a pharmacist and subsequently, the medicine can be delivered straight to the patient’s home.
How Australia can better manage the effects of this epidemic
“Manage the pandemic as a business continuity issue. Put clear leadership in place and make sure that we use the structures around that to manage the crisis,” Bowles added. Businesses who were unable to transform their operations or business models into a digital model inevitably suffered during this pandemic. “Telehealth will enable virtual care”, he explained as “we have to be strategic and use digital technologies to enable us to actually meet the needs of consumers and healthcare professionals within the country.”
Dr Schaper elaborated that in Australia, they were able to achieve ten years’ worth of innovation within ten days as “We (they) were motivated by improved patient outcomes .and improved working conditions for clinicians”. She further commented that there should be a shift towards “not just models of care that are very different but also outcome- based workforce redesign” and making sure that the infrastructure as well as the training and specialist workforce are all in place in order to fully support this version of healthcare.
Agile teams were swiftly developed and worked together to develop new software in order to accommodate the swift technological changes in the healthcare landscape as well as provide digital services all around the country. “Major digital implementations were deferred because whole workforces, administrative and clinical in both public and private hospitals sectors had to completely remobilise and therefore the sort of engagement and change management and need for strong digital implementation of core systems was not in ideal circumstances,” Prof Foley said.
Quick fixes were quickly developed by the healthcare providers to mitigate these limitations and software developers worked tirelessly around the clock on shifts to accelerate and rethink design of healthcare technology around policies developed by the government.