Last month, the WA government announced its WA Health Digital Strategy 2020 – 2030. Intended to be a blueprint for digital transformation in the health system over the next decade, the move is indicative of WA’s pivot in focus towards a digitally-enabled system for the public health sector designed around patients. It is also a powerful nod to the forthcoming disruption in how technology is used in healthcare as a whole.
We already know that consumers are empowered by technology as it brings greater information, flexibility, convenience, and personalisation to all areas of our lives -- from shopping, banking, travel and education, to project planning and job hunting. The demand for technology-enhanced options in the healthcare sector is no different, where patients are becoming consumers and major digital corporations, insurers and even retailers are entering the space traditionally occupied by healthcare providers. This provides potential for a disconnect between what patients expect from the healthcare industry and what it is being delivered.
In the recent EY report, What connections will move health from reimagining to reality, responses from over 8,500 consumers and 650 physicians in four countries made it clear that over a relatively short period of time, how we go about delivering care and pursuing health will fundamentally change.
In the next decade, healthcare consumers and physicians expect that the core business of health will be anchored around digitally enabled models of care. There are many digital technologies that will enhance patient-centred care, such as the use of smartphones and tablets as primary interfaces, wearable health devices, virtual consultations and remote management of complex care, virtual hospitals enabling care closer to or in the home, artificial intelligence in diagnosis, precision medicine such as genomics and pharmacogenetics, robotics, and the analysis of big data for predictive analytics.
The tension is that while patients are seeking a heightened customer experience by way of virtual visits, remote monitoring, the ability to manage their health more proactively, and reduced costs and effort, doctors’ attention is focused on using technology to reduce administrative burden, aid diagnosis, and to communicate with other medical professionals.
The consequence of this? We continue to maintain a system that is less patient-consumer centric and fails to capitalise on the exchange of important data around lifestyle monitoring and wellness, in turn hindering preventative healthcare efforts. This carries even more importance for WA that has a considerable percentage of its residents occupying rural and remote areas. Improvements to the current system in WA, highlighted in the WA Health Digital Strategy, demonstrate the need to use technology to provide better access to much needed medical advice and care. Despite this, it is promising that the findings in the EY report indicated that doctors are “planning” to get on board, with many looking at introducing remote monitoring and chronic disease management tools.
The effective use of digital technology in the healthcare system should be a priority for all levels of government. Both state and federal governments need to play a role in revising what healthcare could and --should -- look like and take architectural steps to focus patients, doctors and other major stakeholders towards successfully developing and operating in a more responsive and robust healthcare ecosystem.
For the healthcare sector to fulfil its potential we need a middle ground where patients are able to quickly and easily share health and wellbeing data with doctors. At the same time, we need doctors to embrace the use of technology to help patients better own their healthcare journey, while also improving their health literacy skills so that they can participate in a patient-centred system. Additionally, health organisations will need to become more agile and look to build, buy or partner for solutions that allow the organisation to innovate and remain relevant to the organisation’s purpose.
Given the traditionally conservative nature of the healthcare industry and the fact that change takes time a shift in culture is paramount. However, before any real progress can be made we must first understand what problems need to be solved and clarify what success will look like. Technology has been embraced in so many areas of the healthcare sector already and the next phase of disruption, if done correctly, has the potential to provide huge benefits for patients, the community and the sector.