Superfast broadband to make healthcare affordable: IBM report

IBM has launched a new report into Australia's digital future, pinpointing healthcare as one of the most significant industry sectors that will be revolutionised by ubiquitous high-speed broadband.

The report – A Snapshot of Australia's Digital Future to 2050 – was commissioned by IBM and written by IBISWorld founder Phil Ruthven. He believes it to be the first report in the world to rate a nation's entire industry classes against the impact of high-speed broadband.

“We have predicted that by 2050 the new utility [high-speed broadband] will generate around $1 trillion in revenue for Australia, almost eight times higher than the $131 billion it generates today,” Mr Ruthven said.

“Some of the biggest industry beneficiaries are our lowest productivity growth industries today, including mining, health and education. Through these predictions it becomes obvious that high-speed broadband is essential for Australia’s economic growth – not a delete option.”

The report highlights healthcare and social assistance as the sector poised to become the major industry division in the Australian economy by 2050. “It already occupies first position on the employment ladder and has had no down cycle in its centuries-long history,” the report states.

“This division is our highest employer with 1.35 million workers in 2012. While the sixth largest contributor to our GDP in 2011, it is expected to become the largest in 2050.”

It is the cost of the industry as a whole, both to governments and the community, that will force change. The report warns that the sector “needs to harness all the power of analytics, high-speed broadband and other innovations to prevent what could be a cost burden too heavy to carry into the late 21st century” and to overcome both a growth in demand and the “appallingly low productivity” of the industry.

There is a “desperate need for analytics, systemic behavioural changes and the full armoury of tools” in the sector, the report states.

The report claims that superfast broadband – which it characterises as 100+ Mbps – will be vital in driving healthcare costs down by faster diagnostics, preventative health systems, partial self-diagnostic services and more efficient systems and operations in hospitals.

It forecasts we might have a health system that we can actually afford in 2050, by halting spiralling costs through new technologies. These include technologies that provide home-based care, enabled by remote health monitoring and telemedicine; early intervention and prevention, also enabled by home health monitoring and easy access to reliable health information; and “tremendous strides” in personalised medicine due to the dramatically reduced cost of DNA testing.

The report also provides a snapshot of what the digital healthcare future will look like, with some of these capabilities already emerging:

  • Homes will be the primary care centres, with elderly people and those with chronic illnesses connected to remote health services
  • Consultations will be at the patient's convenience through teleconferencing and remote data capture
  • Hospitals will be reserved for acute care only and there will no longer be such as thing as an outpatient
  • The “medical data dam” will be breached, with faster clinical trials leading to new treatments coming on the market faster
  • Team-based healthcare will be the norm, with clinicians connected in a virtual team room and specialists no longer “a bottleneck to service delivery”
  • Patient informatics will be updated in real time and accessed by everybody in the team
  • Health professionals will “practice to their qualification”, with GPs purely specialising in complex diagnoses
  • Health professional training will be split between chronic and acute care, with many people specialising in the new disciplines of prevention and wellness
  • The wellness industry will boom, powered by easily affordable DNA testing and genomics for tailoring health and wellness management.

“Citizens take pride in being responsible for their health,” the report forecasts. “Most Australians know their at-risk diseases and are well informed about preventive care. ‘Dr Google’ is recognised as dangerously inaccurate. Instead, people rely on the health industry-created online resource ‘Ask the doctor’, based on new question and answer technology. We routinely perform simple online diagnostic tests at home – such as a blood test for infection – before bothering a doctor.”

It suggests the health industry can prepare for the future by investing in remote monitoring technology, introducing patient-centric care, extending healthcare professional practice, including prevention and wellness in the training of nurses, and building patient-centred primary care health service centres as the delivery unit for ambulatory care and acute situations.

It also forecasts that by 2020, Australian consumers will need a monthly data allowance of almost 200 GB, and potentially 5 TB by 2030. “By 2050, we may need broadband speeds of up to 10 Gbps.”

The report is available from the IBM website.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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