Digital Health

Budget bolsters digital health, aged care tech overhaul

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The Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) welcomes the continued focus on and investment in digital health, with the Government further committing investment across aged care, virtual health, medical research and artificial intelligence.

Several flagship initiatives were unveiled in the Federal Budget, including:

1. An additional $1.4 billion over 13 years from 2024–25 through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to continue to invest in medical research in Australia.
2. $1.4 billion to upgrade the technology systems and digital infrastructure across the aged care sector. This includes funding to sustain current systems and to support the implementation of the new Aged Care Act.
3. $47.5 million over four years from 2024–25 (and $14.1 million per year ongoing) to expand Healthdirect Australia to provide national and state‐based virtual health services to assist consumers access the most appropriate care.
4. $39.9 million over five years from 2023–24 for the development of policies and capability to support the adoption and use of artificial intelligence technology in a safe and responsible manner.

DHCRC CEO Annette Schmiede welcomed the continued priority given to healthcare and research in helping to make the healthcare system both more effective and efficient for clinicians and consumers alike.

“It is overwhelmingly pleasing to see such a focus on healthcare, and specifically the role of digital technology in helping to improve overall health outcomes,” Schmiede said.

“Australia’s health system is only going to come under more stress and strain in the decades to come so it is critical that we embed solutions today that protect the health system for future generations.”

The Federal Government has shown a strong commitment to investing in the future of healthcare. The recently released Medical Science Co-Investment Plan, committed up to $1.5 billion to medical manufacturing in Australia. Late last year it also released a 10-year roadmap for the sector with the Digital Health Blueprint and Action Plan presenting a roadmap for the coming decade.

Aged care a priority

The Budget delivers strong support for the aged care sector including $1.4 billion to sustain and enhance critical aged care systems and $531.4 million for additional Home Care Packages to reduce package wait times. There is also $88.4 million to attract and retain the aged care workforce and provide better staffing solutions.

DHCRC has long been advocating for further investment in integrating existing digital systems in aged care into the broader health sector. Its flagship Aged Care Data Compare Plus project, led by The University of Queensland, alongside large scale provider Regis Aged Care and software supplier AutumnCare, is looking to use the HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (HL7 FHIR) data exchange specification as the basis for creating a secure data and analytics platform that delivers a quality benchmarking and reporting solution for the residential aged care sector.

“A more integrated, connected and uniform aged care system would help to significantly improve the delivery of care for older Australians,” Schmiede said. “ACDC Plus is a flagship project that is looking to bring best practice to a sector that for too long has been too separated from primary and acute care.”

The aged care sector will further be boosted as part of the $1.2 billion Strengthening Medicare package, with states and territories to be funded ($882.2 million) to upskill the residential aged care workforce as well as deliver hospital outreach services in the community, provide virtual care services, and deliver complex care for older people outside of the hospital.

“When over 70% of all healthcare services are funded by governments, it is vital that the health system works as efficiently as possible. With predictions that the fastest growing components of future Government expenditure are health, aged care, and disability services, supporting increased efficiency and effectiveness across these services is a critical goal,” Schmiede said.

Safe and responsible use of AI

The budget also supported the further use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the healthcare sector, providing $39.9 million over five years for the development of policies and capability to support the adoption and use of AI technology in a safe and responsible manner. This includes $21.6 million over four years to establish a reshaped National AI Centre (NAIC) and an AI advisory body within the Department of Industry, Science and Resources and $15.7 million over two years to support industry analytical capability and coordination of AI policy development and regulation.

“We are increasingly seeing AI used to complement the delivery of healthcare,” Schmiede said. “Many of our healthtech partners are developing ground-breaking innovations using AI in ways that will transform the delivery of healthcare in the future. It is critical we continue to invest in these innovative technologies and ensure we manage the risk and governance around these new advances in an effective way.”

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.

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