Disrupting healthcare to contain the rising costs of an ageing population

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Interview with Professor Shitij Kapur

Australia’s healthcare industry must become a “data-driven, integrated system of care” to bring down costs, and drive efficiencies, but the change is likely to be met with some resistance, according to the Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Services at the University of Melbourne.

Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Services at the University of Melbourne, will speak at the upcoming Australian Davos Connection Leaders Forum on the topic of ‘Disrupting Healthcare and Promoting Wellbeing’.

Leading up to the event, which is being held on the Gold Coast between 21 June and 24 June, Professor Kapur spoke about the changes he believes the Australian healthcare sector must make to contain healthcare costs amid an ageing population.

Professor Kapur said because the population is ageing, he believes the percentage of GDP required to cover Australia’s healthcare costs will have to rise.

Although Australia does have an ageing population, our high immigration rate means the population is not ageing as quickly as in some other countries, he said.

An ageing population means there are more people with co-morbidities, which increases the rate of complications and compounds pressure on the system, according to Professor Kapur.

No “single solution” to lowering costs

There is no single solution to keeping costs down, said Professor Kapur.

While ‘prevention’ is a good idea, Professor Kapur said there is little evidence to support it as an effective strategy to lower the burden on the healthcare system. It’s not a “magic wand”, he said. Though benefits in some cases can be proven, the time taken for improvements to flow through the system can be decades.

Genomics and precision medicine are also promising areas of medicine, but “even they will not really address rising costs”, he said.

“Most of these spectacular treatments and new movements of genomics and precision medicine are still ‘boutique’ from a public health perspective,” he said.

“Out in the trenches, the progress is not so fast.”

“Despite these advances, overall life expectancy is going backwards in the US and UK… and somewhat slowing here.”

From a patchwork of individual players, to a data-driven, integrated system

Professor Kapur said the key way that Australia can reign in healthcare costs is to better integrate its healthcare systems and run them more efficiently. A key way to create better efficiencies is to use data in new and different ways.

Professor Kapur likened Australia’s healthcare industry to a bazaar of highly skilled professionals, with each professional selling their service to the public. Professor Kapur said the system would run much more efficiently – and at a lower cost – if those professionals coordinated their services together, they could made better use of data.

The healthcare profession as a whole would run more efficiently if it operated like a logistics company, which uses large amounts of data behind the scenes to create efficiencies, he said.

“Our biggest opportunity is moving medicine from an individual-driven patchwork of professionals, to a data-driven integrated system of care”, said Professor Kapur.

For healthcare operators – primary and secondary healthcare operators, and even social services – to be better coordinated, they will have to work together, and that could be met with resistance, said Professor Kapur.

The “traditional inertia” of healthcare professionals are distorting policy, said Professor Kapur. Medical professionals are training with narrow windows of expertise, and are set up to offer a narrow range of services. It’s likely these players will “resist change” in the industry, he said.

Professor Kapur said elements of “wellbeing” that can be proven should be integrated into medicine.

“Even when we’re ill, we still need to maximise wellbeing,” he said.

The Australian Leadership Retreat 2018 will be held from Thursday 21st to Sunday 24th June 2018 on the Gold Coast, Queensland. The theme for 2018 is Challenging the Façade of Leadership and Shaping Opportunities.