COVID-prompted new healthcare models support better patient outcomes

This article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review. By Alexandra Cain.

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Emerging approaches to health care provide the infrastructure so different health providers and specialists can more easily come together to support patient outcomes.

The Australian healthcare field will only continue to improve, as technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics are introduced across different settings.

This revolution will be driven by an ageing population prompting greater spending on healthcare, which supports the pipeline of new technologies being developed in the field. The federal government’s 2021 Intergenerational Report forecasts health spending per person will increase from $3250 in the 2018/19 financial year to $3970 in the 2031/32 financial year, before reaching $8700 in the 2060/61 financial year, with these figures having been adjusted for inflation.

SMS Healthcare is a pioneer in the Australian medical sector. It operates a range of hospitals, specialist clinics and diagnostics facilities such as radiology, as well as allied health centres such as physiotherapists, around the country.

A recent project for the business is a no-gap, rapid recovery joint replacement program at East Sydney Private Hospital, which establishes a new approach to hip and knee orthopaedic joint replacement in Australia. The initiative means patients undergoing a joint replacement can get access to specialists, allied health and other medical professionals under one roof.

“The program redefines care around the patient’s needs,” explains SMS Healthcare managing director Carl Adams.

Private health fund members with AHSA, BUPA, HCF and Medibank Private, holding policies that include primary joint replacement, are now able to access their surgeries at East Sydney Private Hospital without a paying a gap fee between the cost of the treatment and the amount the fund will cover.

All surgical, anaesthetist, surgical assistant, rehabilitation and hospital fees are covered under this scheme. Patients who are part of the program also benefit from a more flexible approach to recovery instead of mandated minimum hospital stays.

SMS Healthcare has also invested heavily in digital tools to better manage patient records and deliver healthcare services. These tools help navigate what can be a complex health journey for patients as they see different practitioners and through their recovery period.

“We are witnessing massive growth in digital medicine products, evidence-based software and hardware products for healthcare. Scientific discoveries are transforming clinical trial structures, digital medicines and dramatically advancing how we diagnose and treat different diseases,” says Adams.He explains digital health, which is online clinical care delivered through technology, will redefine medicine in the future.

“Advances in medical science are being propelled by significant investment and research across the public and private sectors. This is driving more predictive, preventative and participatory medicine. Health care organisations are using data analytics, artificial intelligence, virtual care and other technologies to shift health care towards a future where more personalised medicine enables real-time care interventions and provides behavioural nudges to achieve better health.”

NAB Ventures is an increasingly important part of the health ecosystem in this country. The venture fund invests and partners with innovative start-ups that can helps make the bank’s customers’ lives easier.

“There’s such scope for innovation in healthcare, especially since COVID. It’s accelerated consumer use of health services, as well as the way patients make online bookings, access their health records online and attend telehealth appointments,” says NAB Ventures managing director Todd Forest, who believes the pandemic-inspired tech push in the health care system has only just started.

“Increasingly, diagnostic tools will be accessed through your phone, using its camera. Patients will take a photo of their skin and AI will be used to analyse the image. There is a lot of really cool stuff coming,” he says.

The use of robotics in healthcare is also on the rise. “I recently met the founders of a company adding sensors to surgeon’s gloves, which gives them feedback on where to place their fingers and the scalpel during an operation. This will eventually become automated,” he adds.Forest says there’s substantial work going on in the health subsector of anti-ageing. “This isn’t about preventing you from dying, it’s about ageing well.”

Australia is leading the charge in many respects in health innovation and private investment is supporting that. According to alternative investment house Preqin’s Pro’s data, over the last five years, there’s been twice as many private investment deals and three times the amount of capital invested compared to the five years prior. There was 92 deals valued at $5.3 billion in 2016 versus 140 deals in 2021 valued at $14.8 billion.

“Our role is to find great start-ups to create a seamless digital experience for our customers when it comes to payments and lending. We want to help businesses make it easy for patients to make an appointment, pay for services and access the best specialist, which is all becoming digitised,” he adds.

Forest expects the health sector to undergo exponential growth as the current cohort of new businesses, start-ups and more established operators drive a colossal transformation of the sector over time. The outcome will be better access to health services for all Australians.

Todd Forest, NAB Ventures Managing Director.