The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that technology-driven healthcare initiatives are more important than ever, according to the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) Co-Chair, Expert Working Group, Health Technology Readiness Project, Sue MacLeman.
Speaking via a CEDA livestream she said that as technology evolves and improves so should the way in which we deliver health care from prevention, through to diagnosis and treatment.
“It's not just the current pandemic that's putting a strain on the system that's still almost entirely focused on treatment rather than prevention, that still relies on face-to-face consultations and long waits in groaning GP clinics or emergency rooms, a system that still communicates through some outdated media including sometimes fax machines,” she said.
“The good news is the gap between the current operation of the health system and its technology-enabled potential creates an enormous opportunity for strong and swift improvement.”
Ms MacLeman said ATSE had spent the last year examining new and emerging technology in Australia’s health sector and its readiness to develop, adapt or adopt these technologies to meet the challenges of now and the coming decades.
Speaking on a recently released report, she said there were four recommendations produced that would enable the healthcare sector to kick-start that shift.
“During the consultation process we spoke to over 200 organizations and individuals in the healthcare industry, research and government and overall they said the good work is already being done but there were still always areas for improvement,” she said.
“Some of those included the need for healthcare to be digitised, the need to change the focus to prevention and wellness and to support the workforce as it skills up, particularly for digital literacy.
“We also need to ensure that we have access to healthcare right across Australia to all our citizens and there are opportunities there for improvement.
“We assessed Australia's readiness to adopt or develop technological solutions according to five key parameters: infrastructure readiness, skills readiness, social readiness, economic and commercial ratio feasibility, and policy and regulatory readiness.
“The first recommendation is a transition of inter-operable electronic health records.
“The collection of high-quality structured health data is a priority for Australia's healthcare sector over the next decade, as digital technologies become increasingly interconnected.
“It is our vision that by 2030 there are no more paper files, but universal, secure, electronic health records.
“Analysis of big data will enable accurate monitoring and prediction of population health trends, informing and enabling government to act early and invest in large-scale preventative or controlled measures from emerging lifestyle and infectious diseases.
“Social licence for electronic health records will fundamentally depend on well communicated privacy and cybersecurity frameworks.
“The second recommendation is about improving equity of access to health care through technology.
“The use of telehealth and AI-enabled devices must increase, to support equitable outcomes for people living with disadvantage and to improve access and reduce financial burden.
“Commonplace use of remote consultations will also open up better advice and treatment options for patients who live remotely or who are unable to leave home safely and have limited access to medical specialists.
“The third recommendation is around supporting the existing and future healthcare workforce through this transition.
“Empowering the workforce to maximize the benefits of new healthcare data and communication technologies will free up their time from administrative tasks, better support their medical decision making and result in improved health outcomes for patients and wellbeing for healthcare workers.
“The last recommendation is around providing targeted support for a thriving health technology sector.
“Despite a successful medical and life sciences research sector, Australia still struggles to get all of our world-class research translated and commercialised for use in everyday healthcare.
“Government must support investment in improving pathways to commercialisation for Australian developed medical technology and create an environment in Australia where our health technology start-ups are attractive for investment.
“Such an environment can be achieved through strategic and targeted support for health technology researchers and start-ups in the areas which have high growth potential.
“The good news is the gap between the current operation of the Health System and its technology enabled potential creates an enormous opportunity for strong and swift improvement.
“Closing this gap will set Australia up to not only deal with our future pandemics but also deeply enhance our capacity to respond to the business-as-usual healthcare needs.
“Work has already begun on all of these critical areas and the pandemic that we are living through right now is fast tracking our response to others, but to be truly ready resilient and responsive, we will need to do more and make faster progress.