It’s fair to say the COVID-19 outbreak has tested us all to our core, none more so than our health workers. Tasked with responding to such a rare, global, and impactful pandemic, they’ve been forced to work in extraordinary circumstances. We should all be proud of the work they’ve done.
The rest of us have also been tested in different ways – we’ve endured lockdowns and changes to the way we can and can’t interact. For many, the normal work-life balance has also been blurred as the majority of us work in our homes; another challenge as we try to keep our work/home lives separate, but ensure we keep up both productivity and our mental wellbeing.
For the Australian health system, this impact has meant changes to the way it operates but also to the way its customers (the public) want to be engaged with.
This year, we’ve seen temporary testing sites and COVID-19 clinics set up all over Australia. More than 100 clinics were established by May and many more have been since, including mobile sites which go where they’re needed most.
We’re also seeing a tremendous move away from in-person engagement to other solutions that don’t require patients to leave their homes.
In April more than 700,000 telehealth consultations took place in a single week.
While house calls aren’t thankfully necessary for the majority of us, video conferencing means consultations can take place remotely, ensuring patients be seen by specialists without the risk associated with close contact. This service is so popular, in April more than 700,000 telehealth consultations took place in a single week.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) has also become a popular method to treat mild cases of COVID-19. For example, some providers are using blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, and other devices to monitor patients who aren't ill enough to be hospitalised. RPMs, however, can help healthcare providers gather critical patient data, efficiently manage the use of staff and hospital capacity, improve patient care experiences, and increase their ROI (return on investment).
But, of course, not all patients are technically capable, have access to good-quality broadband, or have the equipment needed to conduct a consultation remotely. This digital divide affects the most vulnerable patients: the elderly and those on lower incomes. Areas with large populations of these two demographics may also see an increased need for mental health services as well as physical, and it all adds up.
A large number of staff have started to work remotely. In New South Wales, the health organisation’s video conferencing platforms have experienced an 18-fold increase in use compared with pre-COVID-19 times. That’s a tremendous change. It means hospitals and clinics have to work out how to support that increase, and how to handle remote support workers and on-site clinicians in a way to ensure staff continue to be productive and supported in any way they need to be.
This is going to have to be an area of focus for health providers and policymakers looking at investing in the health sector in the coming decades.
Health clinicians and staff will need to have the latest patient management capability, cloud-based solutions that allow them to work anywhere, as well as the most up to date cybersecurity to ensure everyone’s details are kept totally secure.
A recent PwC report states in the next 20 years, over five million Australians will be over the age of 70. By 2025, Australia will need an additional AU$24 billion in capital costs and an increase of AU$13 billion in operating costs to adequately meet project gaps in residential aged care, community aged care, home and community care, and hospital beds.
In order to prevent this massive gap of infrastructure and personnel, Australia needs to find ways to care for elderly people in their homes and provide health services to them remotely.
This means health clinicians and staff will need to have the latest patient management capability, cloud-based solutions that allow them to work anywhere, as well as the most up to date cybersecurity to ensure everyone’s details are kept totally secure.
For many years, the question has been, ’What if Australian healthcare used technology to treat patients and give them access to health services from anywhere?’ This year, we are starting to see this question answered. For many, it’s an opportunity to reset the patient-doctor model and hopefully facilitate preventive healthcare.