Innovation in healthcare: navigating the next decade 

If we’ve learned anything this past decade, it’s this — technology never stands still. And if the last 10 years felt fast going, expect the next 10 to feel rapid.

Change, it appears, is the only constant; a consistent challenge for all and a particularly pertinent one for those in healthcare, where the stakes are high and the ecosystem complex. 

Never has technology and data had a more important application. But despite the benefits it brings and the advances in care it can help to deliver, government and healthcare providers must tread carefully.

Our national digital health strategy makes clear the goal — “Better health for all Australians enabled by safe, seamless, secure digital health services and technologies…”. A task that’s as much about improving patient outcomes as it is helping people to stay healthy.

Yet to realise such vision, providers and governments must continue to scan the horizon if they are to adapt to — and more importantly — take advantage of, technological change.

So, first, a look at what’s in store.

SEAMLESS CARE
Records that travel with you

Electronic medical records (EMRs) might not be new, but implementation has been gradual. This decade, however, we’ll finally see wide-spread adoption of digital records in public and private health systems, expanding to specialists and allied health, as well as implementation of shared digital health records across public health systems in several states and territories.

Beyond enhancing clinical decision-making at the point of care, the impact will be far broader, with digital records forming the bedrock of healthcare transformation.

From here we can expect to see a multitude of advancements like: 

  • Assisted clinical decision support (for example, alerts for potential negative drug interactions)
  • Better telehealth and remote medical care
  • Stronger focus on individual or precision healthcare
  • Advanced population health insights across services and states.

SAFER COLLABORATION
Fast, secure digital communication between healthcare providers

Recently announced national standards[1] will enable greater collaboration between healthcare providers currently working in silos, often precariously without full visibility of a patient’s health condition and treatments.

Importantly, the standards will enable broader adoption of secure messaging to support the safe exchange of health information.

SMARTER HEALTHCARE
5G fuelling the transformation of healthcare

The roll-out of 5G technology will further fuel the transformation of healthcare delivery and the rise of smart healthcare in both metro and regional centres.

A dramatic increase in internet reliability, bandwidth, speed and latency will enable wide-scale use of smart healthcare technology and support the broader adoption of emerging technologies and treatments like:

  • Remote diagnosis
  • Telemedicine and precision medicine
  • Smart hospital care
  • Virtual and augmented reality
  • 3D high-resolution medical imaging
  • Wearable devices to support clinical care
  • More intelligent emergency response and transportation.

5G will also enable real-time collaboration between healthcare providers across services, states and even globally, and supply real-time interactivity for medical equipment and wearable devices. The change will bring benefit to both practitioner and patient and for regional Australians, reducing the need for long distance travel to seek medical treatment.

China has already begun to play a leading role in some areas of smart medical care, with leading hospitals, including the West China Hospital of Sichuan University[2], already deploying and applying 5G in their clinical practice and smart medical strategy. Australia – we need to keep up!

AI COMING OF AGE
Maturing machine learning

The application and use of AI in healthcare will explode over the next 10 years rivalling the transformation it has powered across other industries like banking.

Reduced costs around data storage and processing power will also help to drive more rapid adoption.  

And while AI is set to significantly improve the treatment of disease, it’s potential for helping people to stay healthy is huge. Think — proactive monitoring through wearable devices and access to vast quantities of data that enable a more holistic understanding around causes of disease.

These types of insights will greatly enhance our ability to prevent chronic diseases that plague nearly 50 per cent of Australians and are responsible for the majority of hospitalisations and deaths each year[3].

HEALTH DATA FOR GOOD
Working together to realise potential

As digitisation spreads, the capacity for health services, researchers and government to better work together to harness the full value of the data (beyond providing benefit to individuals alone), will rise too.   

If done right, real-time analysis and the sharing of health data has the potential to transform the entire ecosystem — how practitioners make clinical decisions, how businesses deliver services more efficiently, how the sector works together to treat and prevent disease, right through to how people manage their own health.

REALISING THE BENEFITS
Re-thinking our approach to transformation

While advances are exciting, and an awareness of the opportunities necessary, moving forward will require a re-think for many.

What worked in the last decade, won’t in the next.

The landscape we’re in and the future we’re hurrying toward demands far greater agility of business and government.

To succeed, the process of change must become as important as the change itself.

Many will be familiar with how things have run in the past — first the business case is approved, funding then allocated, technology subsequently purchased, implemented and adopted and come completion, it’s already out of date. Or at worst, almost redundant.

It’s why you’ll regularly hear of failed digital transformation attempts. And the figures don’t lie.

This new decade will require industry and government to improve their ability to horizon-scan and future-proof. Anticipating what’s ahead will be critical and ensuring strategies, plans and commercial agreements are agile enough to respond to rapid technological change, a must.

THE DOMINO EFFECT
Reward relies on good housekeeping

Despite all the innovation we’ll see in the next decade, the new ideas we’ll engage with and the redesigning of technology solutions that will occur, all are merely distractions if the fundamentals are ignored.

Now more than ever, services will need to place greater importance on, and dedicate more resources to, standardising data in EMRs and maintaining good data quality, particularly if they seek to dive into the benefits of advanced analytics, machine learning and AI.

Sorting the fundamentals, understanding the risks, planning for the challenges and maintaining a steady focus on the future will be key to reaping the rewards.

Associate Director Liz Jones

[1] https://bit.ly/2xcI7s1

[2] https://bit.ly/2TsEqHB

[3] https://bit.ly/2IkLXSm