Better use of data could save $5.4bn in hospital costs: PC

Friday, 10 May, 2024

Better use of data could save $5.4bn in hospital costs: PC

Better integrating digital technology into health care could ease pressures on our healthcare system and save over $5 billion a year, according to latest research from the Productivity Commission (PC).

“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 health care could help address these problems while maintaining or even improving outcomes,” said Commissioner Catherine de Fontenay.

“We have made major strides integrating digital technology into health care but there are still a lot of potential savings and efficiency gains on the table that governments can help unlock.”

A lot of these potential savings can be realised by improving how we fund and use 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,” said de Fontenay.

Improving information sharing

The Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) CEO Annette Schmiede welcomed the report. “It is pleasing to see the Productivity Commission recognises the role digital innovations such as telehealth, digital therapeutics and remote patient monitoring are playing in transforming health care,” Schmiede said.

“Our healthtech partners were unanimous in their view that while the explosion in digital technologies in health care had delivered many benefits to clinicians and patients, more strategic investment and regulation to make information sharing more seamless was needed to realise the full potential of digital health innovation.”

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, de Fontenay said. “Governments may need to consider alternative funding approaches to target high-value uses of these new technologies.”

Tackling fragmented data

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

“We estimate that making better use of data in electronic medical records systems can save up to $5.4 billion per year by reducing the length of time patients spend in hospital, and $355 million in duplicated tests in the public hospital system alone.”

Annette Schmiede said the DHCRC’s experience from its research initiatives in partnership with the technology sector, the healthcare industry and researchers has highlighted the need for more work to make the large health datasets that currently exist in isolation more compatible and accessible across the health system.

“The message is clear throughout the report: more focused and targeted investment in data sharing and digital health will help both reduce healthcare spending and deliver better patient outcomes,” Schmiede said.

AI and automation

AI and automation also present a major productivity opportunity for health care — research shows up to 30% of the tasks currently undertaken by the healthcare workforce could be automated using digital technology and artificial intelligence, according to the report.

“AI could free up a lot of time and resources for clinicians that can be used to provide care for patients. Governments need to ensure our regulatory guardrails build trust in AI technology so our healthcare system can maximise the potential benefits,” de Fontenay said.

Local integration

The Australian Hospital and Healthcare Association (AHHA) CEO Kylie Woolcock said, “Digital technologies need to be integrated with care pathways at a local level. Too often we look to drive a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to support our governments in recognising where administrative efficiencies might be gained from national approaches, but also to understand the flexibility that is needed in the models of care that leverage technology.

“Such flexibility might be around the workforce structures that enable implementation through to protecting equitable access across different population groups.

“We also need to be cognisant of considering the broader impacts of shifts to virtual care models. For example, with workforces that aren’t co-located, there are likely to be complementary investments needed to ensure the workforce can connect and be supported informally, as what might happen in the tearoom.”

Change management

Change management will be a critical part of the shift in models of care to embrace digital technologies, AHHA said.

“Value-based health care provides a framework that connects grassroots innovation to driving outcomes, not activity, as well as connecting such innovation to a better understanding of the policy levers that incentivise and disincentivise investment. The report highlights the economic imperative, now the system must come together to ensure the value,” Woolcock said.

Image credit: punna

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