There’s a glaring gap in the health policy debate

Ahead of the May election our CEO, James Scollay, shares his views with The Australian (published 16th May 2019) on how technology in healthcare has been overlooked by most parties, and what that means for Australians. 

 

Health policy might be centre stage this election, but there’s a glaring gap in the debate.

With less than two weeks to the federal election, it’s no surprise our country’s health has come into the firing line. Cancer services, hospital funding, out-of-pocket costs – these issues warrant concerted policy attention. But while each party continues to pledge new promises, not one has addressed the technologies that will be required to deliver on these for all Australians. This, to me, is a grave oversight, and one that could hinder the delivery of safe, timely and effective care for patients.

Many of the pledges made by the coalition were announced in the federal budget. Here, the government announced $81.78 billion would be allocated to health, with the largest share directed towards medical services and benefits, pharmaceutical benefits, and assistance to public hospitals. However, interestingly, it excluded any mention of research and development in health technology, which we’re seeing health systems take tremendous strides in other parts of the world.

Having carried out our own in-depth research to better understand the digital needs across the sector, we know there’s a huge appetite amongst medical professionals for advancements in this area. And the recent budget indicates we’re simply not setting them up for success. In fact, our data shows that more than a third of health professionals state there is currently insufficient ‘support, training and funding’ in the adoption of digital technology, with many experiencing difficulty with the systems already available to them.

Australian healthcare is a vast and evolving ecosystem, which is precisely why these technologies are critical. Combined, there are over 1 million people employed in the delivery of health and welfare services in Australia, with over 700,000 health practitioners registered in NSW alone. This workforce grew more than 14% between 2011 and 2016, and there’s good reason to believe this trend will continue in response to population demands and broader health literacy.

This growth presents ever-increasing challenges when it comes to delivering coordinated and customised care. On one hand, we have more specialists entering the field who are able to better serve patient needs. On the other, our health system is congested and increasingly difficult to navigate for both patients and health providers. What’s more, we know that our ageing population, and with it our rising rates in chronic illness, are creating huge demand for higher quality health services.

Those at the frontline of our health system have expressed the need for investment in the technologies to overcome these issues. Clinical peak bodies, including the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, have called for a more connected data system, on the grounds it will help save lives and reduce medical errors.

Our research supports this. The majority (57%) of medical professionals claim digital technology will help to achieve better health outcomes and satisfaction, with nearly one in two expressing interest in the adoption of new systems, such as AI. And despite divided public opinion on the sharing of patient information, four in five specialists believe this is extremely important, with 61% claiming it would strengthen care processes — improving care coordination, continuity of care, and reducing patient record duplication.

As a provider of health technology, we’re investing in new innovation to help medical professionals deliver better health outcomes — channelling our immediate focus to the cloud so that we can help connect Australia’s fragmented system, and enable medical practitioners to provide enhanced, customised care for their patients. That means bridging the gap between our widening network of specialists, allowing for heightened accessibility, as well as fast and secure delivery of patient information, when Australians need it most.

Technology experts will rightly observe that the practice management software industry is on the cusp of a major migration to cloud service offerings. By extension of this, I believe the medical industry is also primed for a significant technology-led transformation — one that, like many health professionals will attest, has the potential to save lives.

Just like a doctor would say to a young patient, now is the time to take the long view on health. What future do we see for Australian healthcare? And, more importantly, what is needed to get us there? The election presents a critical juncture for our government to answer this question, and to address the imperative for clearer standards, training and investment. Not only will this enable voters to hold leaders to account, it will stimulate further uptake of digital technology across the sector that will ultimately lead to better outcomes for our patients.

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