To truly reform our health system, we must transform the way our healthcare is delivered. And the answer, according to the Minister for Health, lies in embracing digital health technology.
But investment and understanding in digital health has to go beyond electronic medical records and data sharing and create fresh reimbursement pathways for new, evidence-based digital health products and services which improve patient outcomes and quality of life.
The federal Health minister’s announcements in the recent federal budget to ‘level up’ our digital health infrastructure pose a long-overdue, clear and present danger to the inertia that has plagued Australia’s healthcare system for decades.
This inertia has resulted in key challenges for our healthcare system, including overrun hospitals, inequity for First Nations Australians, accessibility for rural and remote populations, outdated digital infrastructure, and the need to create a system within Medicare that incentivises new ways to care for those with complex, chronic conditions. The safe and secure sharing of patient data, with patients’ consent, is also a hallmark of a modern healthcare system which we are yet to truly conquer.
We commend the government and Minister Butler for tackling what is an immensely complicated, and highly political issue. The $950 million to be invested in this year’s federal Budget into Australia’s digital and connected health infrastructure, including upgrades to the My Health Record and continued funding for the Australian Digital Health Agency, will be essential to creating the foundations for a healthcare system of the future.
In “The Creative Destruction of Medicine”, Dr Eric Topol noted that the engaged patient would be the blockbuster drug of the century. Evidence-based digital health technologies, including digital therapeutics, patient engagement and remote patient management technologies, offer a new way of delivering significantly improved patient outcomes, whilst improving accessibility, equity, affordability and effectiveness of care.
To be truly embraced in the healthcare system, and for Australian patients and state and federal governments to reap the benefits of this, we need to invest, both capital and policy reform, to enable our most promising health technologies to get into the hands of Australian physicians and patients.
But to do this we need to look beyond electronic medical records and data sharing, to evidence-based technologies in preventative and personalised medicine, connected point-of-care diagnostics, medication management and adherence, patient engagement, remote rehabilitation and remote patient monitoring.
These types of digital health technologies, supported by long-term funding through the recently endorsed $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, existing $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, and the new $392 million Industry Growth Program announced in the Budget, will enable us to deliver better care, in a more equitable, accessible, and affordable way.
Many of these technologies are being developed right here at home. However, Australian digital health startups cite difficulty in securing reimbursement and enterprise-scale public procurement contracts as key limiting factors in their ability to commercialise their products locally, despite the funding available to develop them.
This needn’t be the case.
There are emerging models that already exist and work well in incentivising the uptake of clinically proven digital health technologies around the world. Whether it is the US CPT codes which reimburse clinicians reviewing the data from approved remote patient monitoring technologies, or the DiGA framework in Germany which reimburses digital therapeutics in a similar fashion to traditional biopharmaceuticals, there are clear examples of policy frameworks that can drive the deployment of digital health in a way which is meaningful for both patients and physicians.
Local digital health success stories, like the Australian-founded Baymatob with its AI-powered wearable that predicts post-partum haemorrhage before birth enabling early intervention, or Sound Scouts, an online hearing screening service to make hearing tests accessible for all families, have shown the power of evidence-based digital health technologies in significantly improving patient outcomes and addressing accessibility, equity, affordability and effectiveness of care.
The right investment will enable local, evidence-based digital health technologies to get into the hands of Australians sooner and help us live longer, healthier lives. This should be our collective goal and the Government’s $950 million investment into digital health infrastructure and $392 million investment into industry growth and innovation, can only be the first steps to getting there.
The digital health sector has seen unprecedented growth and the National Reconstruction Fund and other industry innovation initiatives like these, offer us a prime opportunity to supercharge digital health innovations created in Australia.
It’s important that we invest in home-grown health innovations which can grow locally, but scale globally, retaining significant economic and health gains for Australia whilst servicing a global patient population.
Bronwyn Le Grice is the managing director and chief executive of digital health commercialisation firm ANDHealth.
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