This election, no one is mentioning the M word
Pulse+IT’s readers prefer us to stay out of politics and refrain from commenting one way or the other and we generally try to do so, but with a federal election just three weeks away and the topic of healthcare barely touched on by our leaders, it’s getting tough.
Barely a peep has come out from the Coalition about healthcare policy beyond the usual spin about record funding, guaranteeing Medicare, free medications, ‘permanent telehealth’ and so on. With health minister Greg Hunt retiring and a non-entity like former social services minister Anne Ruston to take his place, and aged care minister Richard Colbeck currently on holiday either in Coventry or perhaps even Siberia so quiet he has been, healthcare policy and funding is not getting much of a run.
Labor is trying to get it up as a topic but is spinning as much as the government, repeating mantras about Labor having creating Medicare and allegedly only it will protect it. Labor has announced an odd little policy to set up urgent care clinics to allegedly take the pressure off certain hospitals by diverting non-acute emergencies, but this policy has not been vocally welcomed by any healthcare groups and quite rightly, as it is a drop in the ocean on what is needed.
Labor has a good aged care spokesperson in Clare O’Neil but beyond promising 24/7 registered nurses in all facilities – with little hope of recruiting them any time soon – what should be a huge issue in this election is strangely subdued. Labor might announce something big this weekend at its official campaign launch in Perth, but we expect the Coalition to continue to run dead on the issue.
That is causing the AMA in particular to go absolutely spare. (For evidence, see AMA vice-president Chris Moy’s Twitter account. He is almost Trumpian in his use of capitals to get his anger across.) In addition to its long-standing lobbying for more funding for general practice, the AMA has set up a very nice little site to tell voters just how alarming the situation is with their local hospital capacity, particularly for emergency department admissions, at Clear the Hospital Logjam.
Everyone in healthcare knows that the answer to the crisis is proper funding and reform of primary care, but that is not and never has been a vote winner. Funding for hospitals is. With that in mind, it might be an idea for Labor to promise funding on a 50:50 basis with the states should it win government, but that sort of promise tends to be a bit meaningless to the average punter. Everyone is sick and tired of the funding blame game and it’s tough to cut through.
So what else can be done? Technology can be harnessed for sure, and it is increasingly doing so. The COVID pandemic showed that acute care can be a bit more nimble than expected in adopting telehealth and remote patient monitoring for urgent care – it has long been running successful telehealth programs for outpatients and is far better at it than primary care. So with lots of acute care services having set up virtual care to handle the pandemic, it is great to see that these are also now being adapted to help with emergency department blockages.
An example this week is Northern Health in Victoria, which is doing some great work providing virtual ED triage to patients, GPs and Ambulance Victoria, and we understand its model is now being looked at on a statewide basis. Monash Health, Alfred Health and Peninsula Health are running a similar service for patients in south-east Melbourne.
It will be interesting to see if the COVID-related virtual services that numerous health districts have set up can be repurposed for emergency care as well. We suspect they could, but a lot will depend on evidence that these services work. Do they take pressure off EDs, or is the AMA correct that the only way to solve the problem is bigger hospital capacity?
Evidence for technology-based solutions helping with ambulance ramping and access block has always been difficult to find in the past. Some is trickling through however: Eastern Melbourne PHN for instance has been running a trial of the My Emergency Doctor After Hours service over the last 18 months for semi-urgent telehealth consultations and it says there are promising results, financially at least.
Technology can do a lot, but it is not a panacea. It would be useful if our political leaders took a closer look at how technological solutions can be harnessed; for example, the Coalition claims it believes that technology can solve the climate crisis, so why not the health crisis? It is interesting, however, that in all of the discussions of the crisis in healthcare and hospitals, few mention the M word (My Health Record) as being a useful part of the solution.
That brings us to our poll question for the week:
Have our political parties dropped the ball on healthcare policy in this election campaign?
Vote here or leave your comments below.
Last week we asked: do you think women get a fair go in digital health compared to other technology sectors? We got far fewer votes than normal on this question so either this issue is not seen as a big deal in the industry, or our question wasn’t framed well. Either way, 60 per cent said yes, and 40 per cent said no.
Here’s what you said.