A major new report has raised fears that Australia's healthcare is not adapting to technological change quickly enough, and could soon fail to meet population needs.
 
The biggest problem lies in sustainably delivering high-quality, accessible care to the people who need it at the right time, in the right place and with the right intervention, according to KPMG Health, Ageing and Human Services Partner Evan Rawstron and Policy, Programs and Evaluations Partner Steven Casey. 
 
As part of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (Ceda) Connecting people with progress: securing future economic development November 2018 report, both Rawstron and Casey outlined the future of healthcare and what needs to be done to achieve that direction.  
 
Rawstron and Casey said solutions that have worked well in the past, like reducing length of stay and increasing workforce productivity, are not sufficient for the challenges of the healthcare industry. 
 
“The Australian health system will fail to meet the needs of Australian citizens, and moreover fail to access strategic opportunities for growth and improvement in consumer outcomes, if we cannot keep pace with changes occurring in technology, research and development, consumer demands, and the shifting demographics of our population,” they said, in the report. 
 
But where there are challenges, there lies opportunities for benefit. New technology, service and business models create the opportunity to influence consumer demand and the sector’s response.
 
“[They] all create drivers and opportunities for transformation in the health sector and adjacent sectors (e.g. aged care and human services),” they said. 
 
According to Rawstron and Casey, the healthcare industry needs to envision a future where Australians have equal access to appropriate health and human services when and where they require the service, regardless of their geography and other demographic characteristics. 
 
“By 2030, health and human services are provided seamlessly, with integration of services across sectors, recognising the unique consumer journey which each individual may encounter,” they said. 
 
 
However, tackling the complexity of the future of Australian healthcare will require both focus and discipline, as outlined by Rawstron and Casey. They identified a number of tactics to move healthcare into the future, which include:
 
- Availability on demand: 
  • The use of technologies like drones and autonomous vehicles to aid in the delivery of medical products to remote regions, or in redirecting paramedics to patient facing functions.
  • Affordable and user-friendly telehealth platforms and in-home monitoring devices to make in-home patient monitoring the norm, allowing caregivers to be notified in real-time of any incidents and improving on-demand access to healthcare services.
  • Patients with multiple chronic conditions and infrequent users of the health system will be genuinely and actively in control of where, how and by whom their healthcare is delivered by using more intelligent telehealth platforms and tele-diagnostic equipment.
  • Diffusion of technology will extend the working lives of specialists through improved ergonomics and reduced work-related musculoskeletal wear and tear.
- Personalised healthcare:
  • A focus on patient experience and consumer centricity will result in a better experience for both the consumer and clinician. 
  • New hospitals which consider human-centric design will have the potential to improve overall patient well-being, reduce microbial threats and reduce the length of hospital stays.
- Connected healthcare:
  • The rise of wearable, digestible and implantable sensors will enable clinicians to track both health and wellness in real-time, while the patient contributes relevant information directly into their record and share it with their treating clinician.
  • The use of digital and social platforms can engage consumers in ways including tracking medical progress, treatment adherence, reminders and scheduling, leading to improved self-management and psychological well-being.
- Effective healthcare: 
  • Precision medicine will enable clinicians to select a treatment protocol based on the patient’s data that may avoid harmful side effects, ensure a better outcome, enable earlier diagnosis, as well as better and safer treatments.
  • Data analytics will increasingly utilise information stored deep within a medical record to allow clinicians to draw conclusions on best treatments.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs, when coupled with human clinical expertise.
 
In the journey towards this future, the healthcare industry should work out how to deliver quality healthcare to more patients with different and more complex needs, while responding to broader market disruption and consumer expectations. 
 
“Healthcare organisations do not need to predict the future, but rather position themselves for multiple outcomes. While there is no one path to success, there are a number of common elements for the Australian healthcare sector to consider in a cohesive preparation strategy,” they said. 
 
This includes: 
  1. Reorienting an organisation around experience as a continuously measured driver of policy, service or product improvement, in areas including design, governance, research, evaluation and continuous improvement.
  2. Clinicians working on the human element to patient interaction in spite of the increasing prevalence of technology.
  3. The development of partnerships and alliances to more effectively integrate patient care pathways through encouraging more coordinated delivery of care. 
  4. Using data to inform decisions now, and to predict the challenges of tomorrow and investing in big data, predictive analytics and AI capability to help with that. 
 
“Delivering on these four priorities… will require a dramatic shift in the capabilities in the health system management workforce,” they said. 
 
“At an organisational level, this means enhanced, or completely new functions in the organisational structures of health sector organisations at every level. At an individual level, it means that health sector organisations will need to be able to attract or train individuals with completely new skill sets.” 
 

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