The digitisation of healthcare systems has so far been driven mainly by governments and providers but that is set to swiftly shift as patients begin demanding more responsive care, a panel of digital health leaders have predicted.
Global digital health heavyweights gathered in Brisbane this morning to help launch HIMSS AsiaPac18 with a broad-ranging panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities confronting healthcare globally.
HIMSS Board of Directors Chair Dr Manish Kohli said these were the same across the globe, albeit with different regulatory drivers.
“We are all struggling with the same challenges and opportunities,” he said.
“They are quality, access, cost and now, increasingly, the nursing and physician experience and the patient experience.”
HIMSS President and CEO Hal Wolf said the silver tsunami of an aging population was increasing the pressure of those challenges, while also lessening the capacity of working populations to fund healthcare.
Without a change in strategy, Wolf said, “you will not be able to build enough hospitals fast enough”.
“And if you did, you do not have the workforce to fill them. Right now, according to the World Health Organization, we have a 7.2 million workforce gap in the world in healthcare and it is headed towards 14 million in the next 17 years. This is a widening gap.
“The positive part is that we have tools we have never had before.”
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eHealth Queensland CEO and CIO Dr Richard Ashby said the evidence that he had seen on how effective those tools could be made him optimistic.
“As we’re rolling out digital healthcare across Queensland, we are seeing objective benefits that tell me that we can make the system sustainable,” he said.
“Seventeen percent of healthcare costs around the world in first-world countries are caused by adverse events that are predictable and preventable. If you’ve got a $1 billion hospital, you can save at least $100 million a year by keeping the quality of care up to a high standard.”
Ashby said the digitisation of healthcare and tools such as clinical decision support was significantly reducing adverse events in hospital care.
“There’ll be 60,000 decision alerts in the Metro South system today and of those fewer than 600 will be rejected,” he said.
“This is translating into serious reductions in falls and head injuries, reduced pressure injuries and the elimination of some categories of adverse events entirely.”
So far, Ashby said, digitisation was reducing the length of hospital stays by six to nine per cent.
“Translate that across Queensland and that is one less 700-bed hospital that we have to build,” he said.
The next step, said Australian Digital Health Agency CEO Tim Kelsey, was empowering patients to drive their own healthcare.
“Governments in many countries across the world and certainly in Australia and the UK are trying to tap into the energy source of the community, of the person, in order to meet the sustainability challenge,” he said.
“They need more people to take control of their healthcare and prevention can only work on that basis.”
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Kelsey said although the efforts to put people in control of their healthcare were currently being driven from the top down through initiatives such as My Health Record, an inflection point in which patient demand became the main driver was rapidly approaching.
He drew an analogy with electronic booking for air travel, which was initially pushed by governments and met with uninterest and skepticism from consumers.
“A few years after that, people were pulling the airline industry to a point where several airlines went bust because they simply couldn’t deal with the demand there was for additional electronic convenience in the way we travel,” Kelsey said.
“I’m pretty confident that is what is going to happen in healthcare. My biggest concern is not so much that we are headed down a road to unaffordability but that parts of the healthcare system are not yet ready for what I think will be a very sharp pull once people get used to the idea of transacting their healthcare with much more real power over how it is delivered to them.”
Wolf said a vital question was how prepared healthcare providers were for that shift.
“You’re going to have the digital health solution not as an innovative sidepiece but as an absolute necessity in order to be able to sustain the type of improvement in care that will be expected,” he said.
“If you don’t get ahead of the curve, you will run into an economic situation in the next three to five years where it will maybe be too late if you haven’t already started.”