Globally, health is challenged by demographic and economic changes. These changes can threaten a country’s ability to deliver the level of quality healthcare to which their populations aspire.
Thankfully, advances in technology of all forms provide the opportunity to significantly alter the way we deliver healthcare to meet a number of these challenges.
One of the privileges of my job is that I get a firsthand look at health systems around the globe. Based on cost, access, and quality, there is little doubt that Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. But like many countries, it also faces the immediate challenge of an ageing population, rising chronic diseases, and an ever-increasing demand for new treatments and more hospital beds. It also fails to consistently deliver truly patient centred care experiences.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a term that refers to the start of the next era of extraordinary change. This will see the adoption and application of emerging new technologies and platforms to integrate data, build insights, and offer new experiences for customers and service providers across all industries.
Just as we have seen transformative change in other industries such as retail, transport, and banking, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will cause significant change in healthcare. This is incredibly exciting. It has the potential to shift the focus to wellbeing and early intervention, as well as continuing to offer high quality specialist care when people are sick. In doing so, it can provide new ways to address some traditional challenges, while also providing clinicians and consumers with personalised, integrated data and insights at their fingertips – to help them make informed and proactive decisions in real time.
So how does this really translate at a practical level? Imagine an Australian healthcare system in which your outpatient clinic or specialist appointment was booked and confirmed online, just like your hairdresser or restaurant bookings are now, and that you could choose to have that delivered virtually as well as ‘in person’. A system where you have, by way of your mobile device for example, all the relevant data about the health and well-being of you, your children, and your ageing parents. And this is pulled together from multiple data sources in real time and presented in a way that allows you to make informed decisions, access services easily, and have full transparency of the costs and expected outcomes. Imagine what new and different choices you would make.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will enable our healthcare interactions to catch up with the technology that already exists in many other parts of our daily lives. The vision and readiness of the Australian health community to understand, embrace, and adapt to this wave of new capabilities is key to us retaining our world-class position. As leaders in the Australian health care system, we need to think carefully about regulation, policy, and funding frameworks that support, rather than hinder this journey.
Just as society is starting to grapple with the regulatory challenges of autonomous vehicles, so will we have to grapple with how to navigate personalised medicine, nanorobotics, and artificial intelligence guided clinical decision-making and structured wellness programs.
We need to continue to attract top talent, deliver high value care, invest in innovation and ensure care is provided to our most vulnerable communities. However, this also requires new roles and skills, which other non-traditional healthcare players may be better placed to deliver. We will need to work with data scientists, platform engineers, human centred design experts, software engineers, and experts in deep machine learning and artificial intelligence. We will need to think carefully about how to optimise health and wellbeing for the whole population throughout their lives, not just for those requiring acute hospital care near the end of their lives.
Establishing meaningful partnerships and ecosystems with companies and industries that have not traditionally been a part of healthcare will be critical to our continued success. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Salesforce and many others like these will become just as commonplace in healthcare as the pharmaceutical or medical device companies of today, and will work with existing players to bring new disruptive ways of delivering healthcare of the future.
The future is in your hands. The compelling vision you create and the bold decisions you take in your healthcare organisations today will shape the future of the Australian healthcare system tomorrow – and its ability to retain its position as a world leader.
Deloitte’s 2019 Global Health Outlook Report looks at a number of the key challenges impacting the healthcare sector. These three are particularly relevant for Australia:
Creating financial sustainability by adopting new care delivery models
Scale and distance will continue to pose some of the unique challenges that Australia faces as it attempts to move care outside of the expensive hospital setting. Successful ambulatory and Hospital In The Home (HITH) programs need to match the range of services, response times, and outcomes of care delivered on-site. This can more easily be achieved at scale. Our dispersed population and concentrated workforce make HITH programs more challenging.
Virtual healthcare may offer a more promising future in Australia but this will require payment reform to adopt at scale. Global evidence shows that investments in virtual health and telehealth can expand services while helping hospitals to decrease costs and maintain high quality care.
Transparency and conduct
Unique to Australia is the series of reviews currently being undertaken by a number of Royal Commissions. I would expect that greater transparency of costs and appropriate conduct will become a regulatory feature for our aged care, private health insurance and private hospital providers.
The Financial Services Royal Commission report highlighted the need to focus on transparency and fairness of the existing insurance providers.
The Private Health Insurance Amendment Rules 2018 included age-based premium discounts for hospital cover, added second-tier default benefits arrangements for hospitals, and introduced product tiers and clinical categories for hospital cover. These steps will go a long way to improving transparency across the Private Health Insurance sector and making private health insurance a simpler and fairer system for consumers.
There are significant changes and challenges facing the aged care sector. Failings in care standards have damaged the reputation of the sector and regulators are trying to keep pace with social expectations; all resulting in the establishment of the Royal Commission and significant regulatory reform.
The sector is facing a perfect storm. By 2050, the number of Australians over the age of 65 will have doubled; many parts of the sector are unsustainable; expectations are rising, including demands for greater choice, and any cost increases would present significant challenges for the Government’s budget. How can Australia provide better care in an already constrained environment? Getting quality and conduct right is critical – keeping the promises made to older Australians to support them in ageing well.
Adapting to changing consumer needs, demands, and expectations
Consistent with their experiences in other industries, informed and empowered consumers will expect healthcare solutions to be coordinated, convenient, customised, and accessible. My Health Record goes some way to providing the platform to achieve this. However, integrating health and other lifestyle data and providing this in real time for consumers to act upon is where the future is heading. This will require further exploration of open data, cyber security, and privacy.
We really do live in interesting times. It’s time for us to embrace those times and harness the creativity and excellence in the Australian healthcare system to ensure it continues to provide world leading healthcare for future generations.
The challenges of affordability, access, quality, and customer experience face us every day in modern healthcare. But those challenges will only get bigger if we do not confront them and deal with them now. I believe it’s time for us to get on and solve these challenges together, and I know we can do it!