Imagining the future of Australian health care

While traditional video conferencing in the medical industry has been available for over 10 years in Australia, doctors and specialists had always faced difficulties when it came to implementing it for patient care

Between 2015-16, 10.6 million hospitalisations occurred in Australian public and private hospitals. In the same period, 712,000 patients were admitted to public hospitals from elective surgery waiting lists, only half were admitted within 37 days. The medical industry is one of the most important aspects of society, and these figures represent some of the medical industry’s long-running perceived issues such as long wait times and limited access to specialist care.

While traditional video conferencing in the medical industry has been available for over 10 years in Australia, doctors and specialists had always faced difficulties when it came to implementing it for patient care. Medical professionals ran into connection issues and amplified costs due to the roll-out of networks in rural locations. However, with today’s cloud technology, video communication can connect seamlessly, even when internet connection is at a minimal. By adopting video communication, the health sector can create a more convenient service for patients, better help disadvantaged patients and provide solutions that could change how doctors treat patients in the future.

From the comfort of your home

Providing patients with the best care and convenience continues to be a primary goal of health professionals. The last thing people want to do when they’re sick is travel to a general practitioner’s office or back and forth to a hospital or specialist.

Accessing medical services from the comfort of the home, and without consulting Dr. Google, is possible with video communication solutions. Patients can explain their symptoms to a doctor, and receive a diagnosis from their living room, either suggesting individuals to take some Panadol and call them back in the morning, or a trip to the medical centre for further examination. Some medical practices overseas, such as in the United States, are already using this feature and it won’t be long until it makes its way to Australia. It frees up doctors from seeing patients with a common cold (who then will spread their illness to, at, and from the doctor), or just requiring new prescriptions, and allows them to shift their focus to more pressing illnesses.

Thinklabs has already developed a digital stethoscope to help with this service. The patient and their GP or home health care provider can use the stethoscope from their end, and a specialist can hear it through the video communication software on the other end.

Help the disadvantaged

Video communication is proving influential to those most in need of help, but unable to easily access it. Project ECHO, founded in 2003 and launched in Australia in 2016 uses video communication to share medical knowledge that results in saving lives. In Australia, Project ECHO is focused on helping patients suffering from hepatitis C. The program connects general practitioners in rural and underserved locations with health professionals and experts that specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C. General Practitioners can share blood test results and ultrasounds with specialists located in metropolitan cities, who can make a diagnosis and advise on next steps for treatment.

Not only does this reduce travel time for patients, it also frees up other appointment spots. As this program is further adopted, it’s likely other specialist areas will embrace the use of video communication to help diagnose and treat patients. If widely adopted, video communication has the potential to play a large role in facilitating the eradication of health conditions like hepatitis C and diabetes.   

Looking towards the future

While these are services that are revolutionising the health industry now, the possibilities of this technology could be used in the future to benefit the health industry is infinite. It’s not hard to imagine a future where doctors can perform surgeries on patients without ever being in the room. Instead, robot surgeons fitted with cameras transmitting images of a patient in a West Australian hospital, to a doctor controlling the precise movements of its arms from New South Wales could be possible. Once the dreams of science-fiction authors, this scenario now does not feel too far off.

The health problems facing the world today could be solved in the near future as doctors and researchers are further empowered to connect with each other. Sharing knowledge is important to advance research, and video communications can help the spread of information to one day achieve vital medical breakthroughs.

Video communications could prove vital for emergency situations. First responders can connect with trauma teams en route to the hospital to share information with them and allow trauma teams to get a first-hand look at the patients and what they are going to have to prioritise. This would provide the team with valuable minutes of extra insight that can make the difference between life and death.

Changing Lives

Despite commonly viewed as a channel to connect with friends or seal business deals, video communications have real life-changing applications for health care. As in the case of the Project ECHO, over 300 patients have been diagnosed over video and treated from hepatitis C. Video communication technology is already being used to make patient care more convenient and improve access to medical advice. However, these successes must be built upon and expanded to truly revolutionise the patient experience. The future of health care is looking bright, and video communication technology can help turn science-fiction into reality.

Michael Chetner is head of Australia and New Zealand, Zoom.