Dr Brian Morton chairs the Australian Medical Association’s council of general practice, and says that fewer people are becoming general practitioners. He says this year saw 46 per cent of doctors going into general practice, where previous years have been around 64 per cent.
“If the HECS fees are going to go up, they’re going to be choosing other specialties [where there is greater remuneration] rather than general practice.”
For healthcare providers, particularly smaller operations, this means that staff will be more difficult to find, can drive wage costs up and puts finding efficiencies (enabling staff to do more in their days) higher up on the priority list.
Health economist Dominic Tilden, director of THEMA Consulting, anticipates funding bodies might try to chip away at the system to bring it under control.
“Companies that provide healthcare resources will continue to try to get as much reimbursement as possible and governments will give away as little as possible,” he says.
Less reliance on funding means efficiencies need to be found in operations to maintain profit margins, making investment in infrastructure that can facilitate better ways of working an appealing option.
Streamlining healthcare operations will be more important than ever in the coming months and years.
Turning to technology and business applications can help find efficiencies.Find out more
Tilden says technology makes it easier for people to monitor their health, but it could also increase demand on the healthcare system.
“The technology that’s available in monitoring of health will put different pressures on the healthcare system,’’ he says.
“You can find out your blood pressure by wearing a watch and there’s 24 hour monitoring of heart rate”
Tilden cautions that every new technology comes with its share of concerns, and the health benefits provided by wearables should be balanced with awareness.
“There might be 100 people in emergency with a dodgy connection in their watch. It’s not necessarily going to be easy to incorporate that into the health care system that we’ve got.”
As personal devices grow in popularity, the healthcare system needs to be aware of the possible impact, and develop strategies to work more effectively with people. This could mean training for providers, or implementing new technology on the service side.
Yet it’s also important for healthcare professionals to recognise the opportunities technology can provide: for some patients, the ability to monitor their vital signs could be a huge benefit to the healthcare professionals that consult with them on an ongoing basis.
What does it mean?
According to IBIS World, the personal welfare services industry providing community and welfare services to people across Australia, is worth $12 billion and covers 2334 businesses. Combined with healthcare, it is Australia’s largest industry, employing 1,167,000 of Australia’s 10 million workers nationwide.
But with the reduction in general practitioners, potential changes in funding and pressure coming from people self-diagnosing with technology, the sector is going to have to find efficiencies wherever they can.
This could include investment in technologies that improve diagnostics or reduce administration, letting doctors spend more time getting through patients and creating revenue, or looking to change operating models like Telstra Business Award winner Skin Smart Australia.
The healthcare and welfare sector will grow in the future – it has to as the population ages – but the great uncertainty is how the industry will adapt to new technological developments, and how the healthcare landscape will look differently in the future.