COVER STORY: Healthcare undergoes digital transformation

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The healthcare industry has traditionally been a laggard when it comes to adopting digital technologies, with excel spreadsheets and paper notepads largely the tool of choice when it comes to data and analytics.

COVID, however, pulled the sector into the 21st century, where telehealth, near real time data and digital platforms aggregating patient information became table stakes.

According to McKinsey and Company, the digital health industry in 2019 represented a global market of approximately $350 billion. Business analytics site Statista projects that the market will grow to $660 billion by 2025.

In a minidocumentary on the subject, Digital Nation spoke to David Gahan, Chief Commercial Officer at healthtech company RxMx, Michelle O’Brien, head of strategy at cloud based software plaform MediRecords, David Deacon, State Manager of Tasmania Health Service and Dr Liz Williams, CEO at healthtech startup Hemideina about the digital transformation of the sector, and the improvements it has made to patient outcomes.

According to Gahan, until recently, the sector’s approach towards digital transformation has been conservative.

“I think there's definitely a wait and see approach on some of these digital tools,” says Gahan.

“Any sort of engagement in these things is seen as quite a leap forward.”

Cloud-based software provider MediRecords’ O’Brien pins the problem down to challenges with the funding models in Australia’s health ecosystem.

“Traditionally, in Australia, the problem’s been that we've had a lot of systems that have grown up in silos because of the way that the health system is funded,” she says.

The patient journey as it stands means that data from GPs, specialists and hospitals are not aggregated  a problem that MediRecords is looking to solve.

“You've got, for example, the Commonwealth Government funds GPs, the state government funds hospitals, but if you go into the hospital and have an operation, and then you're sent back to your regular GP, there's no incentive in the funding models for the GP to work with the public hospital in the sharing of data. So what we need to do is really look at health reform to work out what funding mechanisms are able to fund this innovation that creates this single view of the patient record.”

The other key challenge is that new patient data using cloud systems are often unable to integrate into older systems, as the data is incompatible, she says.

RxMx and Australia’s largest medicine company Novartis have co-developed a platform that is digitally transforming the patient experience for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in Australia.

According to Gahan, “MSGo is a digital ecosystem that's comprised of a patient app, a physician app, and a web based portal. And the idea is that it seamlessly coordinates this health information for MS patients.”

Gahan says, that prior to such a platform the system was email and even fax based, driving an enormous paperwork burden. He says MSGo coordinates all the information into a single point, allowing patients to focus on their MS diagnosis and therapy.

“That is a huge ecosystem that we built that has multiple data points and touch points that we can really sort of send out to multiple different users. And it's getting the right information to the right person at the right time,” says Gahan.

The benefit of near real time data has also been felt by Tasmania Health, says state manager David Deacon, who worked to break down siloed reporting in the organisation.

According to Deacon, “We were using Excel workbooks down in the south and the Northwest. And the North, the department had just introduced QlikView, which was in 2010. But that hadn't flowed over to the hospitals. And that Excel workbook system to manage that was an exceedingly enormous job. And that's what we were like, for around about six years within the health system, so suddenly it had to change.”

Tasmania Health began its digital restructure in 2016 looking to bring each of the four major hospitals’ data together in order to develop a strategic direction for analytics, he says.

Despite the benefits of a centralised data set, the challenges in embedding the system were largely cultural in nature.

“I got an email from a clinician once that said, ‘You're taking away the most important thing for us, how do we know we're going to be able to access that as staff to provide accurate data for patient care?’,” says Deacon.

“I had to go back and try to reassure them, that we would be improving the service not degrading it.”

Since Tasmania Health invested in digital pre COVID, the organisation was able to track the emergency department, ICU patient occupancy as well and use data to assist with decision making around where and when to move patients. These benefits were seen by pharmacy and surgical services, which are now also building command centres, he says.

Entrepreneurs and startups are also driving innovations in healthtech, and challenging traditional market players.

Dr Liz Williams, CEO of healthtech startup Hemideina discusses the David and Goliath story of her business, in competing against Cochlear with its Hera Wireless Implant System.

She claims that her cochlear implant solution requires 50 per cent less surgical time than conventional systems, with a simpler and less intensive procedure.

According to Hemideina, “Unlike current digital hearing devices, the Hera Wireless Implant System uses a new mechanical signal processing system that captures and preserves sound information that aims to deliver a truer, natural sound experience.”

The hearing loss market that Hemideina is disrupting is worth $1.8 billion in annual revenues, and is set to grow to 7 billion by 2035, she says.

“There’s four major players in the market. So the real opportunity is the senior’s category. So right now, they represent just 3 per cent of the serviced available market, but one in three over 65s will suffer from age acquired hearing loss. So they actually represent 90 per cent of the total addressable market,” says Williams.

Hemideina have recently completed a fully subscribed $10 million Series A capital raise, managed by Henslow.

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