Exploring everything from telehealth to AI, we spoke with Toby Gilbert, Head of General Medicine at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide about the exciting future of healthcare in Australia.
By Kaylee Randall
The healthcare system in Australia is currently considered to be one of the strongest in the world. However, with a rapidly fluctuating economy, an increase in chronic diseases and changes in customer expectations, the Australian Government is focusing on making the healthcare system even stronger.
In record funding, the government is aiming to spend $537 billion in the next four years. They are focusing on major goals, like:
- Guaranteeing medicare
- Improving access to medication
- Providing broader digital health access
- Focusing on indigenous health.
Australia aims to have the strongest healthcare system in the world, and with this solid plan in place, they are on track to do so.
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What is the current state of the Australian healthcare system?
Gaining an objective view of your country’s healthcare system is important to understand what exactly you’re paying into (if anything at all) and what you’re receiving. Let’s dive into the current state of Australia’s healthcare system.
How big is the Australian healthcare system?
Healthcare in Australia is made up of both public and private healthcare systems. Anyone in Australia can use either form. Being one of the most comprehensive healthcare systems in the world, Australia’s system is considered quite large.
Including specialist care, general practitioners, emergency services and preventive medicine, there is a complex web of medical professionals that make up the entire system.
There are both public and private hospitals, but it’s up to the individual which service they’d like to use. It’s also possible to use public health for certain things and private for others. Australians can get the best of both worlds by having the power to choose what kind of healthcare they’d like.
Does Australia have free healthcare?
The public healthcare system is run through medicare, which is funded by taxes. The taxes that each citizen pays helps to keep the public system running. Now, when you use medical care, other costs may be accrued.
For example, being treated as a public patient in a public hospital is covered by medicare. However, you may have to pay a small bill for tests that are ordered for you while visiting a doctor. Most prescription medications are covered partially as well (as long as they are on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme list).
If you decide to get private healthcare, it’s a different story. You’ll have to pay a premium each month to get your insurance covered. Beyond that fee, you’ll be charged co-pays for each visit. Some people prefer to pay for private healthcare because it can be more convenient for them.
So, is healthcare free in Australia? Not entirely – but it’s closer than many other countries.
How much money is in the system?
Every Australian citizen pays 2% of their income to the government for Medicare. Beyond the funding from residents, the government also allocates large amounts of money to support the system. As stated earlier, the government is aiming to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on supporting Australia’s healthcare. Monetarily, the healthcare system is highly endorsed.
Virtual healthcare in Australia
Virtual healthcare has become increasingly popular over the last five years in Australia. It’s convenient, quick and accessible. Many people across Australia find that telehealth visits work best for them in their day-to-day lives.
Telehealth visits ultimately allow your healthcare provider to care for you without the need for an in-office visit. This can be an easy way for people to see their general practitioner when feeling sick without having to leave the house. Prescriptions can be ordered during the visit, helping patients get on track to feeling better, quicker.
It’s also possible to see specialists over telehealth. If you’re dealing with an ongoing injury or illness, you can have most of your follow-ups over virtual care. This can save you a trip to the doctor’s office.
Virtual healthcare is more accessible, helping a broader range of people in Australia. Taking a visit to the doctor’s office means that you need transportation to get there. Not everyone has a car, extra gas money or convenient access to public transport. Plus, many Australian communities are extremely remote and telehealth helps provide care to regional Australians with ease.
According to Toby Gilbert, Head of General Medicine at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide, South Australia, the future of virtual healthcare in Australia will probably involve experienced doctors working from central hubs. For example, an advanced paramedic would work out in the field, especially in remote areas with virtual access to a hub of doctors to make a decision about the need for hospitalisation.
“We’re reimagining pathways in healthcare that we’ve been relying on for decades and virtual healthcare will be a big part of that. The healthcare industry is notoriously change-resistant but the pandemic pushed practitioners to find solutions fast and adopt change at record speeds. This is likely to continue,” said Gilbert.
Considering all of these positive benefits of telehealth, it will most likely be offered by more and more practitioners across Australia. Australia aims to be on top of the constant changes in the healthcare industry, staying as one of the best systems in the world.
Healthcare and technology in Australia
We have seen incredible new technology emerge in our society over the past decade. Specifically, when it comes to health, many companies have created products that assist people in not only staying on top of their health but actively improving it. These digital devices have created a substantial impact.
Current healthcare technology
Some of the most popular products on the market are wearable devices that monitor health. From smart watches (like the Apple Watch or FitBit) to Biosensors, ECG monitors and more, people have access to a wide array of devices that can assist them in achieving better health.
These devices help people monitor and track certain things about their health that used to only be accessible if you were seeing a specialist. Now, it’s at the fingertips of anyone who wants it.
Things that can be monitored on smartwatches are:
- Heart rate (resting, while exercising, etc.)
- Levels of physical activity
- Steps taken per day
- Cardiovascular fitness levels
- Sleep trends
- Irregular heartbeat.
In the past, most of the things mentioned above could only be assessed during a stress test by a cardiologist. Now, people can measure this data over longer periods, giving them (and their doctors) even more accurate results. Smartwatches can be some of the best wearable technology in healthcare.
A Biosensor is a device that measures specific molecules in the body that are important to our health. Some examples are sensors that measure glucose, blood alcohol content or the presence of opioids.
The most popular use for biosensors is for people with diabetes. Many doctors offer their patients biosensors that send measurements directly to the doctor – that way, the blood sugar levels can be tracked properly every single day.
Healthcare data and privacy challenges
There are also many apps on the market (some even for free) that make it easy for people to keep track of their health data. On the iPhone itself, you’re able to connect your online accounts with your doctor’s office. That way, you have easy access to your health records.
Within these records, you can easily click and view recent lab work, immunisations, medications, procedures, allergies and clinical vitals. The most important data pertaining to your health is just a click away from your iPhone.
Beyond the basic health records, there are even more opportunities to track health data. People with periods can track their cycles, giving them insight into their reproductive health. You can track symptoms you’re feeling about an illness or chronic condition. Sleep monitoring can be turned on as well.
Although it’s wonderful that keeping track of our health has become so easy, there are also challenges to overcome as well. Many patients are concerned about the privacy of their healthcare data. If it’s so easy for them to access, does this mean that others can hack into it as well?
Having healthcare data hacked can be very dangerous. Hackers can use this information against the person they hacked. They can submit false claims to insurance, obtain prescriptions and use private health information against the individual for personal gain.
Although it’s exciting to have our own health data easily accessible, it can also be dangerous. This is a growing concern in the technology and healthcare world in Australia.
Future healthcare technology
The future of healthcare technology is expanding and growing every single day. Here are some of the most exciting technologies being explored in Australia.
AI and healthcare
AI (artificial intelligence) is a useful tool that practitioners can use to provide healthcare. One example of AI use is for diagnosing certain issues. There is a technology that can diagnose skin cancer and is common among dermatologists for everyday use with their patients. Other technology can diagnose heart disease, for example.
Some say that AI is more reliable than just basing a diagnosis on a doctor’s evaluation. With a doctor’s education and skill matched with the amazing technology of AI, healthcare is becoming much more reliable and the Australian healthcare system expects to see more AI integration in the field.
Gilbert asserts that AI and machine learning is the next big thing for healthcare in Australia. Using Natural Language Processing and image integration, AI is on its way to making healthcare in Australia safer and more efficient.
“We’re currently looking at using machine learning for diagnosis, estimating the discharge of patients and understanding the chance of readmission. At the moment, senior doctors are required to review patients every day to make manual assessments about diagnoses and when they’ll be discharged,’ said Gilbert.
“With AI, we can not only diagnose more accurately but we can also estimate when a patient will be discharged, which helps immensely with staffing. Furthermore, AI can also help us understand the chance of readmission from which we can take the necessary action.”
Robotics and healthcare
Robots are used to enhance patient care in both the operating room and clinical settings. They can help reduce the workload for doctors and nurses, giving them more opportunities to connect to their patients on a more meaningful level.
One of the most impressive things about robotics in healthcare is the ability of robots to complete surgeries. Common orthopaedic surgeries can already be performed by pre-programmed devices. Service robots can help disinfect areas and perform routine tasks. The possibilities are endless with these high levels of technology in healthcare and the use of robotics in clinics and hospitals is only expected to grow.
Healthcare accessibility in Australia
Having access to materials and resources is pertinent for good health. Many different factors can prevent people from having access to proper and affordable healthcare. It’s important to recognise these factors to improve them.
People in lower socioeconomic groups tend to have poorer health. Many things contribute to this observation. Some people struggle with having enough time to focus on their health, while others don’t have the means to travel to a doctor.
When using the public healthcare system, if you’re struggling with an issue that isn’t an emergency, it can sometimes take longer to be seen by a proper doctor. If you can afford private health insurance, you can basically pay your way into seeing a specialist a lot faster. Therefore, you’d be able to tackle your health concerns as quickly as possible.
It’s clear that people in a higher socioeconomic group hold many privileges. Australia is doing its best to bridge the gap between groups to provide fair healthcare to all.
It’s not a secret that women, transgender and non-binary people face health discrimination more often than cis-gendered men. Many healthcare workers can hold certain biases that alter the way in which they care for certain patients.
Healthcare professionals must be trained to care for people of different genders than their own. It’s also pertinent for them to become more comfortable with terms used within the transgender and non-binary communities to help their clients feel supported and comfortable.
What’s next for accessibility in healthcare?
For Australian healthcare to be more accessible, the government must keep up with the ever-changing landscape of healthcare and the economy.
By empowering the residents of Australia, connecting remote communities to healthcare and improving affordability for those who need it, Australia can have one of the most comprehensive and supportive healthcare systems in the world.
Jobs in healthcare in Australia
Pursuing a career in healthcare can be a sustainable and rewarding career. There are endless routes within healthcare that you can go down and that all depends on where your interests lie. Two of the most up-and-coming paths you can consider are healthcare management and healthcare technology positions.
Healthcare management jobs
You can make over six figures working in healthcare management. Some positions include:
- Medical Records Supervisor
- Insurance Specialist
- Case Manager
- Human Resources Coordinator
Requiring skills like strong communication and interpersonal skills, organisational skills and an interest in healthcare policy, the Australian healthcare system expects to see positions like these continue to flourish.
Healthcare technology jobs
Tech jobs are some of the most sought-after jobs on the market today. With the high demand and high salaries, it could be a great option for you. Here are some positions to look into:
- Health Informatics
- Mobile Technology
- Cloud Technologies
The way healthcare and tech naturally blend together make this an exciting new field to be part of. From the medical software that patients use to book appointments to the way practitioners store and organise data, tech experts will be the ones to build and manage those technologies.
In other words, healthcare technology jobs are expected to be in huge demand in Australia in the years to come.
Changes to the healthcare job market
As we’ve said, healthcare is constantly evolving. There are always new types of jobs that are needed and new things to learn within each field.
Gilbert notes that for those who are interested in the healthcare field but who aren’t keen to go the clinician route, statisticians are also highly valuable for the future of healthcare in Australia. Understanding statistics and recognising trends are hugely useful skills in his work at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and he sees these types of jobs as lucrative opportunities for those coming out of university.
Our courses at FutureLearn can help you learn more about careers in healthcare. Whether you’re just getting started or are currently working in the healthcare field, we have tons of resources at your fingertips.
Australia is on its way to having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. With ample funding, specific goals and amazing healthcare facilities, Australian residents can be excited about the future of healthcare.