Providers and health systems will need to leverage technology to paint a complete picture of their patient’s diagnoses, and as more devices, apps, and resources are being introduced, the need for interoperability, data sharing, and data security will become even more pronounced as Australia works towards building a more connected healthcare system.
While the Australian Digital Health Agency has outlined the National Healthcare Interoperability Plan that will better enable evidence-based care, including technologies such as Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and support for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). These exciting advancements all need new techniques to program and control them, and Australia risks being left behind by not addressing these opportunities more directly.
The state of Australian health innovation
Advancements in wearables and other smart devices are just the beginning of creating a continuum of care and building a more complete picture of an individual’s health. We’ve already begun to see numerous advances showing promise in transforming healthcare.
Artificial intelligence, for example, has proven helpful in identifying patterns, predicting outcomes, and personalising treatment plans for patients. The technology is already playing a pivotal role in analysing medical scans, helping clinicians improve screening techniques, and predicting patient outcomes based on large amounts of clinical data. Even now, new and still developing algorithms have the potential to deliver even stronger patient outcomes while reducing associated costs.
Deep learning, a subset of ML, similarly involves training neural networks to recognise patterns in large datasets. Current applications range from supporting patient discharge by predicting when a patient is going to disengage from a healthcare program to assessing patient histories, behavioural patterns, and contextual factors to support improved patient-centred care and bedside manner.
Having the ability to use data to predict diagnosis, help develop treatment plans and evaluate potential outcomes are all helping to modernise the patient experience and deliver better care, but even more exciting developments are on the horizon.
What’s coming next?
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and Remote Monitoring systems are making headway with integrating movement and temperature sensors into fabric and tattoo-based, fluid, and ocular sensors. These prototypes have the potential to detect chemical changes in the body and smart tattoo ink would take the concept of wearable medical devices to a whole new level. This then opens the door to discussions around “In vivo” sensors and potentially nanodevices placed into the bloodstream, skin, bones, or even breathed into the lungs, which coupled with tiny devices can administer medications, or even trigger or block nerve signals.
Nearly 28% of the Australian population live in rural and remote areas and often have poorer health outcomes in comparison to metropolitan areas due to the unique challenges imposed by their geographic location. Tools such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) may help in reducing healthcare inequality. These technologies have the potential to reshape how remote healthcare and training is conducted, already universities such as La Trobe are trialling the use of AR technology to bring doctors into aged care homes virtually, and researchers say this could be used to improve remote medical exams for both patients and doctors.
However, before the real-world impact of these technologies can be seen, providers will need to overcome the hurdle of achieving buy-in from patients and building trust from practitioners–challenges recognised by the Australian Digital Health Agency–as well regulatory concerns before adoption can become mainstream.
Pathways to mainstream adoption
With any innovation in healthcare comes the added responsibility around data, standards of care, and regulation. While cutting-edge tools offer exciting building blocks for expanding healthcare access, privacy concerns need to be mitigated, with careful consideration given to how emerging technologies in healthcare can comply with regulatory standards. Recently, The Australian Medical Association (AMA), urged caution and called for regulations to control the use of artificial intelligence in the healthcare system, including the need to develop standards to ensure there is a human at the end of the decision-making process.
Additionally, emerging technologies mean nothing if they cannot be integrated into current healthcare systems and meet the needs of both patients and healthcare practitioners alike. Interoperability is what paves the way for ongoing advances and continual improvements. It’s not enough to pick and mix solutions from the ‘sweet shop’ of technologies on offer; systems must be interoperable to unlock value.
This highlights why healthcare technology needs to be viewed first and foremost as an investment in the patient. In many cases, despite demand for digital healthcare, the technology is often not constrained by technical limitations, but rather by process and cultural factors, and this is why the pace of developments in areas such as AI, ML and IoMT need to be met with a holistic understanding of the cultural factors at play. Prioritising people as the driving force for healthcare innovation is the only way practitioners will realise true and lasting value for their patients.
Adrian Sutherland is a Senior Architect for Healthcare at Endava. He combines interest and expertise to help clients and teams develop innovative and people-centred digital healthcare solutions.