We need to dream big and envisage a future where virtual care, online access, and shareable data are properly integrated into our health system – enabling the right intervention, by the right person, for the right problem, at the right time.
I was recently asked my thoughts on the opportunities to improve access to care, utilising new technologies.
Currently, across Australia, there is no shortage of ‘pain points’ in accessing or providing health care, whether you are a client, service provider, Funder, or policy maker. The health system can be bewildering – difficult to access and complex to navigate. Once people find their way in, wait times can be long and appointment times and locations inconvenient. Funding bodies and policy makers are faced with the seemingly endless pain of trying to meet rising demand with finite, and in many cases decreasing resources.
Effective hi-tech solutions for health services in the near future are likely, in my opinion to focus on the social context within which care is required. We have a world class system, but it is simply not as easy to access as it could be, particularly for those who need it most.
In my vision, say five years from now, health services will fully utilise cutting edge cyber innovations – making it easy to go online to access health services, book and coordinate appointments and read and provide feedback.
I want everyone to have one complete, safe, well integrated medical record that they control; that all health professionals can have input into. Currently, despite the fact that medication mistakes are a key driver of hospital admissions and duplicate tests a recognised opportunity to save costs, there is no significant data sharing between primary care, specialist care and hospitals.
In my future vision, we will deliver many more primary health care services directly to where people are; at work or at home. For example, five people in Deer Park need to see a dentist; our future technology enables us to schedule their appointments into one day or evening and to roster appropriate health staff and resources to match. Then on the day, a custom fit-out vehicle parks in a convenient neighbourhood street so the maximum amount of people can access the service in a timely way, reducing the cost of disruption to people’s lives and the inconvenience of transport, childcare or prohibitive parking costs.
Our future high-tech world will definitely utilise self-drive cars. Imagine – it’s late at night, your child is unwell, and you don’t know if they need a hospital. Instead of phoning after-hours nurse or GP services, a self-drive car arrives at your house. The car would enable a range of necessary diagnostic activities. Results would be shared directly with a health professional via video link. The vehicle could perform a range of follow up activities – transport to hospital; driving to the nearest 24hr pharmacy; providing a list of health services for follow-up, and booking the appointment right there and then. I want all future E-health developments to contribute to greater health equity, to narrowing the gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Aboriginal Australians, and between those who have, and those who have-not. This means we need to co-design our solutions with the most marginalised in our society, not just with the wealthy.
We must start thinking of online access and health literacy as a social determinant of health. The next phases of development need to focus less on what service providers and Funders want, and more on how we can increase the use, access and understanding of virtual health care by all.