With an ageing population and the introduction of new technologies, the healthcare industry in Australia is, no doubt booming. But is this growth substantiated with the relevant skilled employment it requires?
Australia has been paving the way for the growth in healthcare. Federal and state governments have recently been investing millions towards building and upgrading healthcare precincts, such as the South Australia healthcare precinct, and universities are opening their doors to institutes that focus on digital transformation.
Most recently, Deakin University unveiled a new institute for health transformation, while Murdoch University launched a research centre at its Perth campus, with a focus on precision medicine.
And according to a McKinsey Australia report, powerful new automation technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robotics are already transforming the Australian economy, workplace, education system and community.
As automation technologies and digital integrate into the workforce, the report identified that the mix of skills required in all jobs will shift. For example, it found that people will spend more than 60 per cent more time using technological skills.
However, without proactive leadership to manage the transition to a steady state, automation is expected to have disruptive distributional impacts, such as an unemployment rate spike by up to 2.5 per cent during the peak of the transition.
Specific to healthcare, the Australian Jobs 2018 report by the Department of Jobs and Small Business, identified that the largest numbers of new jobs were created in healthcare and social assistance over the five years to November 2017, with job numbers up by 301,600.
It found that the sector employed almost 1.7 million people as of November 2017 and these numbers are projected to grow by 16.1 per cent over the five years to May 2022.
“The strong growth in healthcare and social assistance in recent years is projected to continue, with this industry projected to add significantly more jobs than any other industry,” the report stated.
In a Seek report, Mercy Health’s People, Learning and Culture Group Executive Director Kate McCormack said the boom in healthcare has caused a “war for talent” across the sector.
“We are a people business and our doors never close. The attraction, retention and utilisation of the workforce are our greatest strategic challenges,” she said in the report.
[Read more: Inability to meet patient engagement demand is “hobbling” Australian healthcare providers: study | We need to get the digital basics right and quickly: Tim Kelsey]
At a recent Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) event, eHealth NSW CEO Dr Zoran Bolevich said there is a pressing need for the workforce to develop itself and substantiate this need in health literacy.
“We need more data scientists, more clinicians with digital health skills, more technologists with an understanding of health and more clinicians with the understanding of technology. We need to start developing these new workforce capabilities now; it’s an urgent need,” he said.
At the recent Australian Healthcare Week in Sydney, Metro South Health Workforce Services Executive Director Dave Waters said retaining talent in healthcare is a challenge.
“To do that, we need to maintain and extend talent into advantageous roles such as data scientists or specialists that are moving into predictive analytics and AI. As more organisations roll out clinical informatics, in particular, we need to ensure that we have a pipeline in place for such capabilities,” he said.
Waters also spoke about the need to use data to improve patient outcomes by using the former to find the right fit for a role.
“Is there some way where I can fill a role that might actually improve patient outcomes? That’s where data comes in. Using datasets for workforce planning will enable organisations to identify some of those sweet spots for sustainable performance,” he said.
A direction that works
Metro South Health is one of Queensland’s largest health services by population and employs more than 13,000 staff. Having completed an ambitious project to fully digitise its four major metropolitan hospitals and one rural hospital in 2018, the organisation is tackling recruitment head on.
Metro South Health Recruitment Consultant Boyd Clifford said as a result of technology, there is now a wide range of digital-focused occupations within healthcare, from project managers to business analysts, all of which require a diversity in training, education and background.
“Our digital systems, including the integrated electronic Medical Record (ieMR) and mobile apps, are helping us achieve more accurate, efficient and personalised care. To deliver these digital innovations, we need talent with both IT skills and an ability to improve processes and design solutions for patients and clinicians,” Clifford said.
[Read more: What lies ahead for the next wave of digital health and digital hospitals? | Data analytics is the “gold mine” for operations improvement]
With the uptake and continuing evolution of technologies, Clifford said there will be an emphasis on candidates being fluent in a multitude of different systems, or the ability to very quickly acquire those skills on top of the more traditional skills required for roles.
“As training is critical to the implementation of digital technologies, Metro South Health has been offering its employees extensive training in the use of systems, as well as ongoing support,” he said.
“We also work together with training providers and universities to ensure they are up-to-date on the latest healthcare technologies to ensure our employees of the future have the knowledge and skills we need.”
Clifford also said that going digital has enabled its employees to focus on soft skills that are required for the healthcare industry.
“The introduction of technology has only enhanced the patient experience, enabling our clinicians and service providers to spend less time doing paperwork and more time with patients,” he said.
“You will always need that person-to-person interaction and care with healthcare; technology only enhances this. In this sense, soft skills such as communication and the ability to work as part of a high-performing team are critical capabilities in the healthcare sector.”
Skills of the future
Also at the recent Australian Healthcare Week in Sydney, NSW Government Health Education and Training Institute (HETI) Chief Executive Adjunct Professor Annette Solman said the future state of the healthcare workforce needs adaptive leadership that looks into the whole of health system view and data analytics.
“We do need to ensure that our workforce is strong and has the right competencies and capabilities. A digital health workforce does comprise of clinical and non-clinical staff, ICT professionals, people from a range of professions, etc. They all have a critical role to play,” she said.
“The roles need to focus on adaptability, creativity, teamwork and data analytics. Data analytics is driving knowledge in relation to the workforce, patient care, and capabilities of the future.”
She called for the focus on skill sets that machines aren’t able to replicate. Some examples include:
- People data to optimise workforce planning
- Maximising value of humans and machines
- A hyperconnected workplace reshape.
“Learning in healthcare is changing to include flexibility and blended learning. The three capabilities in demand are higher cognitive skills, social and emotional skills, as well as technological skills. The reason for that is to take people out of the traditional ways of thinking,” she said.
“How we identify the future skills of the digital workforce builds our organisations. We need a continuous mindset of continuous learning and upskilling. We need to be across new technologies, emerging ideas, what patients want and what clinicians are experiencing.”
Preparing for an automated future
UiPath ANZ Technical Director Luke Kelly said with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) infiltrating healthcare, an ‘Automation First’ era – an era where there will be one robot for every person – will be upon us.
“For healthcare, this creates the need to recruit talent that understands not only digital requirements but also automation, RPA and how to best identify the processes fit for applying automation whether in an attended (human in the loop) or unattended context,” he said.
However, this doesn’t mean that robots will be taking over humans’ jobs, according to Kelly.
“Despite the fear mongering around robots and AI taking jobs, the future economy still requires professions, and every professional need to be digital literate. That literacy needs to expand to robotic literacy,” he said.
The key to working amongst robots is to ensure that the machines take care of repetitive tasks, Kelly mentioned.
“All those mundane repetitive actions are tasks that a robotic assistant can take care of, while the health care professional can put their considerable education and experience to good use to make a real difference, without being out of a job,” he said.
“This has the power to increase efficiency and productivity, but more importantly accuracy. Incorrect data can cause major risks and issues for healthcare providers and patients alike.
“An advantage of RPA is a digital workforce doesn’t get fatigued, distracted, or misunderstood, which leaves the human workforce to focus on what they’re good at – saving lives. Healthcare practitioners also have more time to work on value-added tasks that require more creativity and critical thinking.”
[Read more: Does the Federal Budget lack funding to modernise Australia's healthcare sector? | What does the new Secure Cloud Strategy mean for healthcare?]
With much of the repetitive work automated, Kelly said junior employees will be able to learn more skills earlier in their careers, such as analysis, consulting and evaluating.
“Industry 4.0 doesn’t need more coders, it needs robot trainers. Organisations need to upskill their current workforce to thrive in this ‘Automation First’-era and improve digital literacy,” he said.
“It’s surprisingly easy to learn to program or ‘train’ robots, meaning that anyone at any level can begin learning about RPA.”