As a doctor who works in tech, Microsoft’s Health Industry Executive and Chief Medical Officer Dr Nic Woods’ outlook for the future of health is notably un-technology focussed.
“Many of the tools we need to service the future health needs of Australians already exist,” he said ahead of the Innovate Health Conference, hosted by Informa Connect. “It’s now about refining the care, funding, and cultural models needed to build and sustain technology-driven change.”
As one example, Dr Woods highlights how advances in remote patient monitoring (RPM) have been powering a surge in virtual care models since the dawn of the pandemic. The next phase, he says, will be about scaling those models – something that can only be achieved with the right collective focus and mindset.
“The path forward will not be about technology, but rather, the willpower to push ahead and rally people together. The public and private sector will have an equal role to play in making virtual care more mainstream. Hospitals will need to offer alternative treatment mediums; and governments and insurers will need to fund those, routinely,” he said.
Focus on funding
The recent uprise of telehealth is a case in point. Telehealth enablers – like iPads, smart phones, and video conferencing software – are not new. Instead, clinical necessity throughout the pandemic, alterations to the MBS Rebate Schedule, and changing patient priorities, have been the primary drivers of its uptake.
In the broader context of virtual health, a recent partnership between Calvary and Medibank – known as My Home Hospital (MHH) – also sets a precedent for how improved funding could fuel the growth of alternative care models.
MHH – a South Australian state government service led by Wellbeing SA – gives eligible patients the option to receive care from doctors, nurses, and allied health practitioners in their own home; and helps them safely transition out of hospital stay more quickly.
Under the service, professionals visit patients as required, and monitor or check-in via video call, using RPM technology to track clinical observations. Blood tests, x-rays, medication, and other support services are provided through the initiative.
“Health insurers are thinking about the role they can play in supporting newer models of care. However, there is still a way to go before this approach becomes mainstream,” Dr Woods said.
Focus on quality
Alongside funding, further thought will need to go into the quality of care provided through alternative treatment models. As emergency departments grapple with record patient activity, virtual care can help, but will need to align with the quality of in-person service. Assuring quality whilst scaling this new treatment model will also be an ongoing challenge.
“We are seeing a bloom of virtual emergency department services across different jurisdictions. Operational command centres– where clinicians can monitor patient vitals in real time from afar – are one of the key ways hospitals can be supported through technology,” Dr Woods said.
The pandemic saw several major hospitals implement OCCs, but scaling up their usage will require a radical shift in the way many hospitals and clinicians currently work, he added.
“Outpatient clinics are more than a telehealth video call. So we need to think how we can leverage and optimise technology tools to streamline hybrid clinics and achieve the health outcomes we want. This means hospitals and clinicians will need to be open to change.”
Meanwhile, funding models like ‘value over volume’ can also assure quality in healthcare. A gradual shift towards value-based care is underway, but the vast majority of healthcare providers are not financially incentivised for the quality of their service.
Focus on prevention
Technology-powered prevention programs will also be critical in addressing the healthcare needs of the future. With resources being stretched and clinician burnout at an all-time high, strategies will need to tackle the supply and demand imbalance in modern day health service delivery at the root, Dr Woods says.
“We are coming to the edge of a cliff in terms of not having enough trained nurses and other resources. All of that being exaggerated with the intensity of what frontline health teams have had to endure in recent years. In future healthcare settings, we need to look at people who are high-users of health services and explore prevention programs. This will require a large collective effort – including shared management across primary and secondary care.
“Of course, in all of these areas technology will play a role – but it will be a supporting role and not a driver of change.”
Dr. Nic Woods is a Health Industry Executive and Chief Medical Officer at Microsoft Australia, having worked in medicine and digital health for more than twenty years. Hear more of his expert views on the future of healthcare at the Innovate Health Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.
This year’s event will be held 26-27 July at the Collins Square Events Centre Melbourne.
Learn more and register.