Sydney, 12 November 2018 - Australia’s health and aged care sector is undergoing a period of sustained and unprecedented change; and better facility design, new technology and improved processes must unite to drive innovation and improve affordability. That’s according to a panel of industry experts speaking in Sydney today.
Australian health and aged care providers are investing in new building design and technology at an ever-increasing rate as they strive for ways to improve the care experience for patients. At the same time, content delivery platforms, wireless networks and mobile devices are supporting new ways of patient care and offering patients greater levels of flexibility. Technology is also assisting the administration of the health and aged care providers. Paper-based processes are being replaced with electronic workflows, thus reducing costs and improving efficiencies. Ultimately, successful healthcare providers will take advantage of design, people and technology to provide a holistic level of care which is outcome-based.
Keeping up with the changing patient
The evolution in the expectations of patients is aligned with changes occurring in other parts of their lives – from mobile shopping to on-demand entertainment. Rather than accepting a one-size-fits-all offering, people increasingly expect choices and want to tailor everything to suit their particular requirements. The bottom line is that patients are now living in and engaging with a knowledge economy.
Dr Kevin Cheng, Founder, Osana, says his company aims to fundamentally disrupt how primary care operates and is funded, by shifting the focus from activity-based care (number of patients and consultations) to providing good health outcomes.
“We need to stop doctors getting paid for volume, and instead for the outcomes they deliver,” Cheng says. “This is value-based healthcare which will naturally place a greater focus on prevention.”
Cheng’s focus is on health and aged care affordability across the entire Australian health system and he spends about 10 per cent of his time on various national health reform committees (Digital Health CRC, Australia’s Health 2040 GAP TaskForce, and Clinical Guideline Committees for specific diseases).
Health and aged care’s data-driven future
Many healthcare providers are now faced with what have become very 'siloed' IT infrastructures with a range of different systems in place that serve different areas of the organisation.
Siloed IT systems can also make it difficult to share data between different areas within a healthcare organisation. For example, a clinician reviewing a patient's care may need access to test results, scans, personal details and healthcare history. If each is stored in a different location, the result is an inefficient workflow and potential delays or compromise in the delivery of care.
Mark Sands, General Manager, Asia Pacific at Board, says new technology enables front line medical staff access to analytics, which used to be the domain of data scientists.
“To improve patient outcomes we need to allow clinicians to analyse diagnostic data at the time of diagnosis, not long after treatment,” Sands says.
“This is available to the healthcare sector in general. In order to be more efficient and effectively deliver patient service we need to cut across siloes. Teams need to be working together more effectively and access to real-time data is critical.”
In addition, often, when spending is required in one area it puts limitations on others. For example, if a new finance system is required it may mean that an upgrade in infrastructure will need to be delayed. As a result, health and aged care management must perform a constant juggling act to ensure that resources are allocated to the areas that most require them.
Like the patients, the providers are looking for systems that are responsive, intuitive to use and can be quickly evolved to match changing requirements. Often those that have been in place for many years are simply not up to the task.
Another way to remove siloes is with modern unified communication technology which helps staff collaborate and enables people to receive care in any location.
Brendan Maree, Vice President APAC, 8x8, says communication technology can provide better outcomes for customer service and patients, from streamlining workflow to remote telehealth for people in regional areas.
“Modern unified communications incorporating telephony, conferencing, collaboration, instant messaging, and contact centre functionality can empower medical staff with the right tools to enable them to provide the best patient experience possible any time and any place. Unified communications also enables doctors to converse with patients and collaborate with other specialists teams remotely, thus enhancing telemedicine. At the same time, having such a solution hosted on the cloud and supported by one single vendor eases the burden on internal IT resources and lowers operational costs.”
The role of the cloud
To cope with the rapid changes occurring across the health and aged care sector, increasing numbers of institutions are turning to cloud platforms to underpin their IT infrastructures.
Deploying cloud-based applications, rather than using a more traditional on-premise data centre, delivers significant benefits for an organisation by facilitating data access and collaboration from any facility.
“We want to move the health system to a future state that uses cloud-based medical systems and consumer-friendly apps,” Cheng says.
With a number of elements coming together to drive change, from statutory changes to varying regulations and financing, Sands says there is a growing need for efficiency and cloud will deliver better efficiency in this highly competitive market.
“With long established businesses used to doing things a certain way, financial and analytics is very manual,” Sands says. “Cloud offers a cost effective way to establish a more automated way to do things.”
The challenge for health and aged care providers
For health and aged care providers of all sizes, the fundamental changes occurring in patient expectations are causing significant challenges. Everything from organisational structure, cyber security, design and care methods to the underlying IT support infrastructures must now be critically reviewed.
For example, much of today's modern healthcare system relies on large, complex organisations that have grown and expanded their capabilities over time. Comprising a wide range of departments with deep skills and expertise, they provide professional care to large numbers of patients every day.
Phil Kernick, Chief Technology Officer, CQR Consulting, says as we develop more automated hospitals and aged care facilities, sometimes security is lacking.
“We spend a lot of money on patient care, but no money on backend systems,” Kernick says. “We need to avoid a tipping point where we can’t manage the complex technology in a modern hospital or aged care facility.”
Kernick agrees with Cheng that we need to stop thinking about patient care as doctors billing hours and think about all the systems that support doctors.
Technology like IoT has gone from just about the data to delivering actual care and patient outcomes, but Kernick says the human element has always been critically important as the concept of robots looking after us is a very distant future.
Designing a strategy for change
Charles Fortin, Managing Director, Collard Maxwell Architects, says “Technology is making a big entrance in the retirement living and aged care space this year and today’s new hospitals have a lot in common with data centres as they require high-levels of power and data redundancy, security, and connectivity. But we are still experiencing the early days of the tech revolution, and there will be great opportunities here in Australia to design new types of hospitals and aged care facilities which can reap the advantage of applying new technology for patient care.”
Indeed, new services solutions are starting to be recognised as essential, just as mechanical, electrical, hydraulics have been in the past. Architects are now paying attention to the benefits of certain IT systems earlier in the design process with new projects starting to receive more significant technology funding as a result.
“Fear of technology still persists with the customer, however, and the architect must think of ways to manage these concerns in areas where quality of life can be improved. This will lead to the definition of “a Home” in the context of aged care being revisited, as the definition will vary for each individual. Designing for familiarity goes a long way in making the home but it isn’t enough,” says Katrin Klinger, Senior Associate, Collard Maxwell Architects. “Sometimes it is about the human touch, which is expressed by a series of extra niceties, such as a coffee or newspaper. Love, acceptance and belonging are as important in creating the spirit of a home.
Challenges for the designer will be in integrating technology to augment the human experience in a way that is smooth and invisible.”
There’s little question that the pressures coming from within will require health and aged care providers to develop a comprehensive response strategy.
Telsyte’s Senior Analyst, Rodney Gedda, says, “Australia’s health and aged care industry is changing rapidly with the onset of a range of data-intensive technology, from personal health monitoring devices to enterprise medical record systems. Successful providers will work with multiple data sources to provide improved healthcare outcomes for patients and residents.”
The forum agreed that an effective strategy should cover the following key areas:
- Better design of health and aged care facilities
- Improving patient outcomes and experiences
- Supporting data-driven action
- Better employee engagement
- Accelerated innovation
- Security and patient privacy
While the challenges facing health and aged care providers are unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future, better application of design and technology can help providers deliver improved levels of patient care.