Opinion article

Accelerating Australia's digital health agenda

Philips Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Matt Moran says Australian healthcare providers have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic, but it will take a focused effort and broad collaboration to catch up with rates of technology adoption and engagement seen elsewhere in the world.

Healthcare operators in Australia have been challenged to innovate in the wake of the global pandemic. In less than 24 months, consumers and patients have come to expect digital touchpoints across all of healthcare. Industry wide, we have seen how technology has helped ensure continuity of care.

The Philips 2021 Future Health Index found Australia’s healthcare leaders have embraced an adoptive mindset towards digital solutions, with the Australian health system increasingly focused on long-term technology investment. In 2021, almost two in three Australian healthcare leaders reported their top investment priority was establishing robust telehealth solutions for patients and practitioners. By 2024, 77 per cent of healthcare leaders state their top investment priority will be more advanced predictive technologies like AI and machine learning, rising from just 33 per cent in 2021. 

However, despite the wide range of technologies currently available to Australian healthcare leaders, we have not seen the same rate of adoption and engagement as witnessed in other developed nations, such as the United States. In 2019, just 11 per cent of US consumers used telehealth services, with that number increasing to nearly one in two consumers using telehealth technologies to replace cancelled healthcare visits in 2021. While Australia has recorded more than 56 million telehealth consultations, engagement remains more concentrated demographically.  

For Australian healthcare to modernise, industry stakeholders must address the questions posed by patients, practitioners, and government organisations. Firstly, what does a national digital healthcare system in Australia look like and what benefits can this system provide both patients and practitioners? 

Promoting success

Industry stakeholders must work together to measure the impact of digital healthcare best practice and showcase examples currently operating in Australia. This program of work must exist alongside a plan to engage all stakeholders to further promote and scale digital understanding and education in healthcare. 

The pockets of existing best practice where digital solutions are being successfully implemented in Australia can become case studies to help scale adoption across both the public and private sectors. This is the case with AusHSI’s economic impact report on the West Moreton Health District remote patient monitoring program, MeCare, which makes a strong case for government decision makers to further invest in digital solutions. 

Moreover, we should encourage healthcare stakeholders to actively engage with independent and widely trusted organisations such as the CSIRO, now responsible for integrating and expanding the use of AI into national systems. Stakeholders invested in the wider adoption of digital health solutions must work together to increase understanding of the benefits of digital health technologies. Research from the Philips 2021 Future Health Index found 35 per cent of healthcare leaders are prioritising partnerships to further their digital innovation agenda, with 45 per cent stating they will prioritise partnerships with health informatics companies to facilitate greater digitalisation. 

Defining the role of government

While the private health system is often seen as being at the cutting edge of innovation, rarely do innovative processes in healthcare take hold without public sector support. Government organisations, both state and federal, will play a critical role in expanding the adoption of digital health solutions. 

In many circumstances, the major issue for healthcare leaders is staff inexperience and expertise using digital health technologies, with 43 per cent of respondents to the Philips 2021 Future Health Index stating it is a key barrier to future planning. Both state and federal government organisations can help solve this challenge, by implementing more robust digital training and education initiatives. This can also help address investment shortfalls being seen at an operational level; currently only 30 per cent of respondents cite a commitment to investing in workplace training to successfully implement digital technologies.

Incentivising innovation

Likely the most effective method of incentivising change focuses on evolving existing reimbursement models for the delivery of care. Despite evidence of the benefits of digital adoption and value-based care models, Australian healthcare leaders remain somewhat hesitant. According to the Philips 2021 Future Health Index, while one in five Australian healthcare leaders reported having already adopted value-based care models at their healthcare facility, 20 per cent of respondents stated they had deprioritised their adoption plans due to the challenges presented by existing reimbursement models, instead returning to a fee-for-service model. 

The Australian Government can play a proactive role in digitising Australia’s healthcare future and accelerating the adoption of value-based care models by financially incentivising organisational innovation. With the government in firm control of how healthcare organisations, both public and private, are reimbursed for the delivery of care, a reform of funding models will need to take place to drive greater adoption. Programs to further incentivise digital health adoption are being implemented by private health funds, with Medibank’s At Home program presenting customers with the option of remote rehabilitation services while actively promoting its benefits to a wide audience of healthcare consumers. 

Moving forward

COVID-19 has spurred innovation across the Australian health sector and created enthusiasm for digital health solutions among healthcare leaders. Partnerships between healthcare leaders, government organisations, educational institutions and health technology experts are key to overcoming the barriers preventing best practice adoption nationally.

About the authors

Matt Moran

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Matt Moran is the Managing Director for Philips in Australia and New Zealand. With over 25 years at Philips, Matt has held various leadership positions in Australia, Singapore and Europe and across different areas of the company, supporting its transformation from a consumer electronics company to a global leader in health technology.