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Digital tech - the answer to Aussie healthcare's biggest ailments?

31 May 2017

In Australia, it’s expensive to ensure good health, with approximately 10 per cent of GDP or $160 billion a year being spent on healthcare and the Medicare levy set to rise further in the coming years.

Despite the costs of healthcare being high, the medical outcomes in Australia are outstanding. In the OECD, Australia rates 6th for life expectancy and Australian healthcare is considered better than many other developed countries.

However, a Catch-22 becomes apparent – it’s the very leaps in modern medicine that mean our lives are generally longer and more healthy that has led to an aging population, which typically needs more medical services and care provision.

The battle now is to increase efficiencies, allowing us to retain our outstanding healthcare despite the draining effects our aging population on the infrastructure and resources.

To maintain standards, the healthcare sector needs to increase efficiency, improve patient outcomes, and improve the patient experience.

There is no doubt that technology has an integral role to play here in order to cure the problems in Australia’s healthcare system, but without a human-centred design approach to implementing this technology, the investment will be wasted.

Human-centred design means that everything is designed around the end-user, whether that is the registrar, the patient, or the hospital administrator.

This should have a knock-on effect on everything from the seating layout in a GP’s waiting room, to the IT systems and applications that specialists and their patients use to monitor chronic illnesses.

This means thinking of exactly how something will be used, and any problems that users are experiencing with the current system.

Here comes telehealth

One way healthcare providers are looking to increase efficiencies and patient experiences is through telehealth. The popularity of telehealth has been rising steadily as a viable option for medical consultation and diagnosis.

Telehealth allows patients to see a doctor online within minutes, as opposed to the average 32 minutes Australians wait to see their doctors. This provides a more efficient way for patients to see a doctor.

However, there are some limitations. Doctors need to be comfortable that they can accurately diagnose patients, which is not always possible remotely.

To ensure that telehealth reaches its potential in Australia, the systems must be designed with both the doctors and the patients at their heart, otherwise frustrations with what the system can’t do will outweigh what it can do, and people will return to surgery waiting rooms in their droves.

Having a clear view of me and you

Alongside doctors’ finite time, a lack of data transparency is another significant barrier to efficiency, with medical and patient information being left to languish in silos.

Doctors and health providers sometimes know far more than the patient, who often doesn’t have access to specific details about their own healthcare. So while there are vast amounts of data being collected, it’s these information silos that prevent patients from making informed decisions and comparisons.

In response, the Australian Government’s investment in the cloud-based ‘My Health Record’ initiative shows that there has been a considerable investment in digital solutions to promote efficiency.

The electronic record aims to put patients in control by giving them a ‘360 view’ of their healthcare in one, neatly organised location. My Health Record has proven successful so far as an opt-in model, and its usage and popularity is predicted to increase exponentially when an opt-out model becomes available in the future.

By promoting technologies like My Health Record, Australians will have greater control of their health information as they can choose what goes into it as well who is able to access it, encouraging greater data transparency.

Prevention comes before a cure

A preventative stance is being employed by healthcare professionals and insurance providers with the hope that by helping all their members manage their chronic illnesses, or avoid them altogether, they’ll improve results and reduce costs.

If effective, the overall costs of health insurance policies to customers should come down as prevention and management strategies reduce the need for interventions and surgeries.

Digital technology will play a vital role in preventative care and management of chronic illness in years to come. The rise of health monitoring and maintenance apps provide a comprehensive analysis of individual health statistics, keeping the end-user at the heart of their purpose and UX.

These apps range from the standard iOS ‘Health’ app to platforms that track glucose levels for diabetes sufferers. Even healthy people are being encouraged to take control of their own health – technologies like Fitbits are redefining technology’s increasing role in the prevention and management of illnesses such as high blood pressure and obesity.

The way forward

In order to successfully and sustainably move forward, the healthcare industry needs to tackle three major areas – increase efficiency, improve patient outcomes, and improve the patient experience.

However, due to its complex nature, digitising healthcare is still being looked at with a conservative eye. The healthcare system is ready to be disrupted and rebuilt, and technology implemented with a human-centred design must be at the forefront of this disruption.  

Article by Marc Loveridge, Director at experience design studio Hatchd

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