Enabling innovation in health and aged care

4 minute read Penelope Eden

Every day, we're seeing exciting progress in terms of what technology can do for the health & ageing sector.

New technologies are affecting the world all over, and in health care, the impacts are profound. Every day, we're seeing exciting progress in terms of what technology can do for health outcomes, in regards to prevention, diagnosis, surgery, medicine and treatment. Alongside it, with increased access to data and information, businesses are exploring innovative new options that make treatment of patients easier and better.

Many of our clients are at the forefront of these developments. Partner Penelope Eden sees a lot of these changes first hand, and reflects on the enormous potential, opportunities and risks to consider in this important area.

Implications and opportunities of customer-focused care

Health and aged care is moving strongly towards customer-focused care. We're seeing a new generation – the baby boomers – as the major recipient, and the demographics are changing. With a cohort that is generally more IT savvy and better educated than the generation before, expectations for care are changing.

In addition, as we've seen in recent federal and state budgets, the funding envelope is shrinking. There's not a lot available for health and aged care operators.
Instead, providers are reorientating their relationships to focus on clients. Consumer directed care means that funding goes straight to the client to decide on the best service for them. Online channels mean that reputational issues are also enhanced, with customers encouraged to share their experiences with others online.

For health and aged care providers – like with any change – it can be uncomfortable, but it's hugely empowering. Change is happening fast, and technology has a huge role to play as an enabler.

Technology as an enabler

In this environment, operators' hands are being forced to go online. Simple measures, like booking appointments online, have changed the whole health care experience.

We're seeing 'disrupter' services like peer-to-peer databases, uber-style care services that connect people directly to carers – like match-making for health and aged care. One benefit is cost – people can optimise their care packages in terms of the number of hours, with no operators' overheads. But importantly, people also get choice and selection, to engage with people they feel most connected to, and fit in with the family.

Technology and innovation are also enablers for service delivery. We're seeing this through electronic medical records, risk matrices, medication management and autonomous vehicles for transporting patients or aged care residents. Services are becoming more streamlined and patient care is becoming better as a result. These allow a real continuity of care, which is broadening beyond the traditional doctor and nurse, to incorporate all health and wellness providers together.

For an ageing population, technology is enabling home care. Due to desire and the sheer quantity of people, aged and health care providers are willingly looking at ways they can enable service delivery to allow people to stay in their own home for as long as possible. Here, we're seeing artificial intelligence, holograms, and real time virtual consultation with GPs. We're seeing key medical data like blood pressure, urine samples and blood tests taken from home and analysed in an instant.

We're seeing artificial intelligence tools being tested that help people deal with loneliness in the aged care sector. Operators are testing services like dialysis and chemotherapy from the home, helping keep people within their community and out of hospital. There's a real shift in momentum about pushing appropriate service delivery back into the community, such as palliative care.

Practical application: making innovation a reality

A lot of these changes have been borne out of necessity, but there is a real willingness and keenness from the industry to explore these new options and get them off the ground.

That said, while there are so many great ideas, there are a lot of practical elements to consider when businesses are introducing new technology.

There is some tension, for example, about how useful new products are as they are developed, but it's hard to be the 'guinea pig'. New tools need proper risk assessment and mitigation before they are introduced.

With so many health care tools being developed across the board, we need to make sure everyone is talking to each other about how to maximise and leverage new technology and opportunities. These businesses and tools need to synchronise – they can't operate in isolation.

We need to help service providers understand the operational challenges and to fix them, to help them realise the potential of innovative solutions while dealing with day-to-day challenges.

Policy development needs to reflect the new reality for health and aged care providers, and likewise, organisations need to ensure they meet regulatory requirements and registrations to operate safely and effectively. Risk management is key to enabling new technology to succeed, so frank assessments around issues including privacy, cyber law and insurance are critical. With so much information available online and in the cloud, keeping personal data safe is a major concern.

There's a lot for our clients to think about. But it's an exciting world, and the opportunities and potential outcomes for our clients and their consumers are huge. 

Based on the level of innovation we're seeing now, when we imagine what the health care landscape will look like in five, ten and then 20 years from now, the picture looks wildly different every time – but each one is pretty extraordinary.