NBN demands health restructure

You can do all you want with communications technology, but the telemedicine benefits won’t be realised without a fundamental rethink about how we structure our healthcare industry.

After listening to today’s program, you may begin to wonder whether, in the case of health, the NBN sees us building a big broadband network and claiming the benefits, without understanding how to organise the health sector to make the most of it.

Clayton Christensen, the author of The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care, says that none of the benefits will be realised, as long as the industry focuses on recompensing specialists for every consultation they make. He points to the cost efficiency and rapid technology adoption of Kaiser Permanente, a US health insurer that provides its own healthcare facilities. As Clayton puts it, at Kaiser Permanente, a healthy customer is a profitable one. In most healthcare systems, money is made from people who are ill.

Mukesh Haikerwal seems to get it when he says that, in Australia, a transformation has to occur to take us from a facility-based approach to medicine to a more customer-centric approach, with a focus on prevention. Mukesh is the Clinical Lead at the National E-Health Transition Authority.

I wonder, though, whether the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy gets it. I talk to Abul Rizvi, the deputy secretary at the department. Its National Digital Economy Strategy sets a target of having 25 per cent of all specialists participating in delivering telehealth consultations to remote patients by 2020. It seems a meaningless target when such massive change is needed in the industry.

We also hear more from Scott Mitchell, an analyst at Access Economics, who estimated that the benefits of e-health could total up to $4 billion per year.

Christensen’s views make you wonder whether structural change in the industry, combined with the NBN, could deliver far greater benefits than that. Christensen says that the Kaiser Permanente approach reduces health costs by as much as 25 per cent. One thing’s for sure: we can’t continue the way we’re going now. We don’t have enough healthcare professionals to cope with our ageing and growing population.

First published on ZDNet

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