Digital health investment would boost care

Doctor in telehealth appointment with mother and son. | Newsreel
Better use of digital technology would make the healthcare system more efficient. | Photo: Vladimir Viadimirov (iStock)

The use of digital technology and artificial intelligence in healthcare could reduce staff workload by 30 percent and free up more resources for patient care.

New Productivity Commission research found better integration of digital technology into healthcare could ease pressures on the system and save more than $5 billion a year.

Commissioner Catherine de Fontenay said the research showed that up to 30 percent of the tasks undertaken by the workforce could be automated using digital technology and artificial intelligence, with that extra time able to be spent caring for patients.

It also showed making better use of data in electronic medical record systems could save up to $5.4 billion per year by reducing the length of time patients spend in hospital, and up to $355 million through fewer duplicated tests.

“Australia’s health system delivers some of the best outcomes of any in the world – but the cost of this care and wait times to access it are growing. Making better use of digital technology in healthcare could help address these problems while maintaining or even improving outcomes,” Commissioner de Fontenay said.

She said many of the potential savings could be realised by improving how we fund and utilise existing digital technology.

“The use of telehealth has exploded since 2020, but uptake of other digital-based services like remote patient monitoring and digital therapeutics has lagged behind,” Commissioner de Fontenay said.

“Gaps in funding support for these services may be causing patients and practitioners to default to in-person care or forego care entirely, even if it costs the system more in the long run. Governments may need to consider alternative funding approaches to target high-value uses of these new technologies.”

She said gains could be made from making digital patient information more comprehensive and easier for clinicians to access and use.

“Despite major investment in the My Health Record (MHR) system, patient data is still fragmented and spread across different digital systems maintained by individual healthcare providers,” Commissioner de Fontenay said.

She said Government could help by sharpening incentives for software providers to make information sharing across systems more seamless, while the useability of MHR, currently described as a ‘shoebox of pdfs’, needed to improve in tandem with its coverage.

“Government should work to break down or ‘atomise’ data in MHR to make it more useful.”

The Leveraging digital technology in healthcare research paper can be accessed from the Commission’s website.