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Leveraging digital technology in healthcare

Research paper

Released 07 / 05 / 2024

This research paper considers the role digital technology can play in improving patient outcomes and enhancing productivity in healthcare.

Drawing on case studies, the paper finds that better integrating digital technology into everyday practice could save more than $5 billion a year and ease pressures on our healthcare system.

The paper identifies ways in which governments can help realise the substantial gains on offer.

Webinar: Making the most of technology in healthcare

Media release

Making the most of health technology could save billions

New research from the Productivity Commission finds better integrating digital technology into healthcare could ease pressures on our healthcare system and save over $5 billion a year.

"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,” said Commissioner Catherine de Fontenay.

"We have made major strides integrating digital technology into healthcare 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 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,” said Commissioner de Fontenay.

“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.”

We also stand to gain from making digital patient information more comprehensive and easier for clinicians to access and use.

“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,” said Commissioner de Fontenay.

“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.”

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

“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,” said Commissioner de Fontenay.

When released, the Leveraging digital technology in healthcare research paper can be accessed from the Commission’s website at www.pc.gov.au.

Media requests

Simon Kinsmore – 02 6240 3330 / media@pc.gov.au

Key points

  • Better integrating digital technology into healthcare could save more than $5 billion a year and ease pressures on our healthcare system.
    • 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.
    • Up to 30% of the tasks undertaken by the workforce could be automated using digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI); precious time that could be spent caring for patients.
  • Consumers also stand to gain.
    • Digital innovations such as telehealth, digital therapeutics and remote monitoring are transforming healthcare delivery and enabling patients to access care from the comfort of their own homes.
    • Reduced travel time from greater use of telehealth is delivering consumer gains of around $895 million per year.
  • While we have made major strides integrating digital technology into healthcare, there are still a lot of unrealised gains that governments can help unlock.
    • Despite a $2 billion investment in the My Health Record (MHR) system, patient data is still fragmented.
    • Telehealth use has exploded since 2020, but uptake of remote patient monitoring and digital therapeutics has lagged behind.
    • Although AI is being used to guide decision-making and automate tasks to relieve workforce pressure, we are far from making full use of this powerful new tool.
  • Governments can better exploit the value of health information by improving information sharing.
    • Sharpening incentives for software providers to make information sharing across systems more seamless would help improve MHR’s coverage.
    • The useability of MHR (currently described as a ‘shoebox of pdfs’) needs to improve in tandem with its coverage. Government should work to break down or ‘atomise’ data in MHR to make it more useful.
  • Governments can help embed remote care services into mainstream practice.
    • Used well, technologies such as remote patient monitoring and digital therapeutics are highly cost-effective alternatives to traditional forms of care. Targeted support could see these technologies integrated into everyday practice.
    • Taking steps to minimise the unintended consequences of restrictions on telehealth subsidies for consumers facing disadvantage would enable telehealth’s benefits to be enjoyed more widely.
  • Governments can harness the power of AI by building trust among users and improving access to data.
    • A more dynamic approvals process could help provide certainty on safe and reasonable uses of AI, and so build trust and confidence amongst patients, clinicians and service providers.
    • AI needs quality data. Governments will need to facilitate appropriate data access for AI innovators while ensuring effective safeguards around privacy.

Contents

  • Preliminaries: Cover, Copyright and publication detail, Contents and Acknowledgments
  • Overview - including key points
  • 1. The digital technology promise in healthcare
    • 1.1 The promise of digital technology
    • 1.2 Adoption of digital technology in the health sector
    • 1.3 Governments can help facilitate the digital transformation in health
    • 1.4 The contribution and approach of this paper
  • 2. Electronic health and medical records
    • 2.1 Digital technology is changing the way we use valuable health information
    • 2.2 Creating a network of networks
  • 3. Telehealth
    • 3.1 The telehealth transformation
    • 3.2 Is telehealth a high-quality mode of care?
    • 3.3 The impact and benefits of telehealth
    • 3.4 The policy landscape needs to evolve
  • 4. Remote care
    • 4.1 Remote care can improve the management of chronic disease, but uptake appears to be slow
    • 4.2 Governments can improve quality signalling to facilitate uptake
    • 4.3 Targeted funding arrangements could ensure high value remote care
  • 5. Artificial intelligence
    • 5.1 AI can improve almost every aspect of healthcare
    • 5.2 AI changes the risks in healthcare
    • 5.3 The policy landscape needs to evolve
  • A. Consultation
  • B. Measuring the benefits of digital technology in health
    • B.1 Measuring the costs saved from telehealth use
    • B.2 Measuring the benefits of Electronic Medical Record systems rollout
    • B.3 Measuring the benefits of digital technology, including AI, on workforce tasks
  • References

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

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