Advances in health technology present opportunities to deliver better rural care, but challenges remain in providing hands-on care.
A CEDA interactive livestream panel discussed the need to roll out digital health capability to regional and rural areas first.
“Those are communities that have a more inherent incentive to engage in digital health because of the friction they face in accessing healthcare services today,” BUPA Director of Accelerated Growth John Rizzo said.
The many challenges of rural digital health include providing continuity of care between the digital and physical settings, infrastructure barriers such as poor or limited NBN services, and the ongoing need for hands-on care.
“The technology has gotten more sophisticated and made care more complex, but the necessity for people sometimes requiring high-touch hasn't gone away,” said Founding Director of the Australian Institute of Health Innovation Professor Jeffrey Braithwaite.
While telehealth saw a huge uptake during the pandemic, Professor Braithwaite said the convenience of digital health has its limits.
“Healthcare has to be high-tech and high-touch. It is going to become more complex over time - the capacity to treat a wider range of patients with more and more conditions and ageing populations, for example. Yet we still require high touch when it matters. And that's a problem for rural and remote, but it's a problem for cities as well.”
Better utilisation of scarce resources and triaging of complex cases were both cited as opportunities for digital health.
Professor Wendy Chapman from the University of Melbourne said heath providers could improve the use of data in a way that supports collaborative care and better decision-making.
She cited instances where technology can remove some of the unnecessary work of specialised medical professionals.
“With artificial intelligence and image recognition, if you're able to recognise chest x-rays, let's say in Africa, that are normal, now that very rare radiologist can spend time on the more complex cases and not have to spend a lot of time doing things that could be filtered out to support their productivity,” she said.