Is COVID-19 the catalyst to value-based health care?
When COVID-19 first hit our shores, virtual care suddenly became a critical priority for Australia’s health system. While not an entirely new concept, some healthcare providers across the country who had delayed investment in the technology were caught unprepared.
While hospitals geared up to treat COVID-19 patients in ICUs, a considerable number of healthcare providers — from mental health to GP practices and specialists — had to rely heavily on telehealth. Under the first wave of COVID-19, these providers chose quick solutions and stop-gap technologies.
With uncertainty set to remain until a vaccine is widely available, the development and delivery of sustainable digital solutions is vital.
Before COVID-19, telehealth adoption was limited. However, when the crisis emerged, the healthcare system rapidly accelerated digital healthcare, a collective effort which under normal circumstances may have taken years.
As government health investment stays top of mind in the COVID-19 spotlight, and necessary industry-wide changes roll out, technological flexibility is vital. Technology can take some of the pressure off the healthcare system, allowing priority patients to receive the best care possible while ensuring quality of care for all Australians.
Switching care models
Healthcare pricing is traditionally activity based. For example, a patient goes to the GP, then gets an ultrasound; later a CT and a blood test — with each separate consultation paid for individually.
However, hospitals and healthcare providers around the world are slowly shifting to value-based care, where healthcare professionals are reimbursed based on patient health outcomes, rather than on the number of tests or procedures completed.
Value-based care approaches patient treatment holistically. It views the patient as a whole, prioritising preventative rather than purely reactive measures. Our healthcare system can become blinded by acute and emergency responses, and while of course these are important, they are not the whole picture.
Advanced prevention and disease management strategies are struggling to make inroads. Add access constraints and increasingly unhealthy lifestyles to this mix and we have a system in crisis.
As COVID-19 continues, the healthcare system is focused on balancing critical care with the ongoing, day-to-day healthcare needs of Australians across the country. With half of all Australians living with a chronic condition that will need ongoing and often lifetime care, we need to ensure our healthcare system can withstand the current crisis and also support our growing population over the longer term.
In short, the shift from volume-based care to value-based care is a necessity.
Building on telehealth
With COVID-19 still a very real and present concern, the entire healthcare system needs to find sustainable solutions to support all Australians.
When we begin a discussion about telehealth, the thought that often comes to mind is videoconferencing between a physician and a patient. However, telehealth offers much more than a video call.
Virtual care comes in many forms and includes both inpatient and outpatient support. Virtual care means incorporating technology into all facets of treatment to enable decision-makers to see broader solutions rather than just another process. We’re only at the beginning of what this technology can deliver for patients.
Hospitals can establish in-hospital programs, where patients are monitored from a centralised hub by skilled professionals and then treated by clinicians armed with artificial intelligence and machine learning analyses.
During COVID-19, ICUs have been put under tremendous pressure. Telehealth solutions mean we can now implement remote monitoring for the ICU, with highly skilled nurses and clinicians monitoring patients via high-definition cameras, telemetry, predictive analytics, data visualisations and advanced reporting capabilities.
Looking at support networks, electronic medical records play a significant role in transforming patient treatment. Integrating administrative, medical and government systems to allow a seamless patient clinical treatment experience is vital as our healthcare system continues to come under greater strain.
Closer to home
Telehealth solutions are not just about optimising in-hospital care. As COVID-19 continues to demand the prioritisation of critical patients, home-based care is often the best solution for others. As many patients can now attest, home-based care can often be a far more effective option.
Historical concerns around in-home care via telehealth often relate to the technology itself, with patients worried about network access and availability, sufficient screen size or video capabilities. These factors can be quickly addressed with proper healthcare investment.
Too often, telehealth users expect that any platform or service can be used; however, healthcare interactions are not simple transactions. Using specialised telehealth services, we can ensure safety, access and an improved experience for patients across Australia.
COVID-19 has shaken the foundations of the Australian healthcare system. The pandemic has not only highlighted significant gaps in funding and investment, but it has also demonstrated how fragmented the industry has been in adopting readily available technologies.
As we continue to battle COVID-19, our collective commitment to improving the healthcare industry shouldn’t waver. With an ageing population, rising incidence of chronic disease and a dispersed population we already have significant challenges to overcome.
Until a vaccine is widely available, securing the safe operation and support for frontline healthcare services is pivotal. Embracing innovation and the benefits that virtual care can bring to the healthcare sector is essential. Only in this way can we futureproof our healthcare system.
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