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Friday, 20 May 2022 18:18

Automation of healthcare tasks can ease strain on the sector

By Dr David Dembo
Dr David Dembo Dr David Dembo

GUEST OPINION: The strain on Australia’s healthcare sector is compounding, so it is positive to see all sides of politics make health system performance an Election priority. As we look at the long-term performance of our health system, it is crucial to move away from short-term fixes and instead, resolve the root causes of existing constraints. To that end, the best way to relieve pressure on our hospitals and clinics is to decrease demand for acute services.

This means doubling down on initiatives to enable early detection, improving coordination between caregivers, and making healthcare more accessible so patients detect and prevent acute issues early on. The most expensive way of treating any problem is to wait for it to be a crisis. Hence, we must prioritise initiatives that reduce acute care episodes for the long-term sustainability of our health system.

There is likely to be sufficient funding in our healthcare budgets, provided we are able to identify and remove waste from our system. Healthcare waste accounts for up to half of all healthcare expenditures, and they arise from workflow inefficiencies, poor communication, inappropriate treatment, missed treatment opportunities, and insufficient meaningful information exchanges.

Around the world, technology is being used to compare health outcomes against resources consumed to identify the most – and least – effective care. Many health systems, including our own, are using these technologies to move towards value-based funding models, where better outcomes are rewarded over generic activity.



Australia’s healthcare workforce will always be at odds with demand, if we continue to provide care the way we always have. During the pandemic, we’ve witnessed the seamless adoption of telemedicine and telemonitoring, which should encourage adoption of other technologies – such as advanced analytics, AI, and automation – that have proven effective in other sectors.

We no longer need to visit a bank branch, shopping is accessible online 24/7, and we have removed geographic boundaries in how we communicate. These changes have come about because other sectors have had to learn to do more with less, so why not health?

The majority of healthcare tasks are repetitive, low-value tasks that can be easily automated. Moreover, high-value tasks like searching for patient information, predicting outcomes, or forecasting future demand, can be automated.

We have seen the success of this in the fields of aviation, aerospace, and commerce with advanced analytics and AI – and there is likewise a massive opportunity to break the healthcare’s position as a laggard in this area. Such services and emerging technology are no longer considered ‘new’ innovation – value has already been proven.

Beyond this, we also need to plug the education gap in healthcare. Our health system should work towards empowering Australians to maintain greater visibility and control over their own wellbeing and minimise the need for clinic or hospital visit.

This is also an area where technology and data can have a strong play. By automating and personalising more frequent communication with, they become better informed, supported, and enabled to play a more active role in their care. More engaged patients have better experiences and better outcomes, thereby also reducing strain on healthcare resources.

How we draw value from both technology and funding is to align them to resources. In the words of David M. Eddy, who contributed to the literature on medical decision-making, “The complexity of modern medicine exceeds the capacity of the unaided expert mind”.

This means that medicine can no longer be practiced safely without quality assurance systems and decision support. When it comes to the provision of care, advanced analytics, AI, and automation are no less critical than advanced imaging and diagnostics.

The more we incorporate these technologies into our care model, the closer we will move to a more sustainable healthcare system that meets demand and enables equity.

Dr David Dembo is a former GP and current head of Health Catalyst in Australia and New Zealand.

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