I revisited the bronze kangaroos that I photographed during my business trip last February. They still prance in front of the county court house here in Perth, Western Australia. But much has changed since last year. All of Australia is focused on the wildfires that are burning out of control along the country’s eastern coast. Thousands of people are homeless. The death toll has reached more than 200 people and is expected to go even higher once investigators gain access to the most devastated areas.
The wildfires aren’t the only thing different in Australia this year. Just as in America, you can palpably feel that all is not right with the economy. The hotels, restaurants, and tourist haunts are all much quieter than last year at this time. Television ads for Australia’s popular Holden brand of automobiles begin with the words, “In these difficult times…….” There are also signs that construction has slowed in Perth with many projects, just like those kangaroos in front of the court house, frozen in time.
Of course, I am here not to report on wildfires or review the country’s sagging economy. I am here to talk with government leaders, hospital executives, clinicians and partners about how and where technology fits in a broader plan to reform and improve healthcare delivery in Australia.
As outlined in the executive summary of a December 2008 National E-Health Strategy Report commissioned by the Victorian Department of Human Services for the 2008 Australian Health Ministers’ Conference; “Australia’s health system delivers some of the world’s best health outcomes. However, maintaining or improving these outcomes in the face of growing pressures on the health care system will require a fundamental change in the way health care is delivered into the 21st century. Change must address the way information is accessed and shared across the health system, which will in turn transform the way health care professionals practice and consumers interact with the health system.” The report goes on to say, “The ultimate benefit achieved from a national E-Health strategy is a safer and more sustainable health system that is equipped to respond to emerging health sector cost and demand pressures. Improvements in the Australian health care system will also drive stronger workforce productivity that is integral to Australia’s long run economic prosperity.”
Australia currently spends about 9 percent of GDP on healthcare. While this is about half of what America spends to deliver care to its population, the Australian figure is double what it was a decade ago. And just like the venerable Crystal Bell Tower on the banks on Perth’s Swan River, future healthcare spending in Australia is pointed sky-high as the population ages and the incidence of chronic disease takes its toll. This is compounded by another problem confronting many developed nations including both America and Australia–not enough doctors and nurses. 25 percent of the physician workforce in Australia today comes from other countries including Asia, China, the Middle East, and Africa. The government has instituted an emergency program to train more clinicians, but may find it difficult to stay ahead of the curve considering how many years are needed to bring a new physician into the workforce.
All of this makes a strong case for greater use of information technology in healthcare. Government officials and healthcare executives here are more than ready to harness the power of the Internet, unified communications, mobile devices and solutions, electronic medical records, personal health records, and data analytics to improve care access, quality and safety, and the satisfaction of those both delivering and receiving care. Over the next week, I’ll be meeting with local authorities in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. I’ll keep you posted along the way.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft Corporation