New research papers show productivity gains and gaps

Australian Health Journal met with Commissioner Catherine de Fontenay from the Productivity Commission to discuss the key findings of new research papers, “Advances in Measuring Healthcare Productivity”, released in April and in May, the release of “Making the most of Technology in Healthcare”.

De Fontenay talks about the Commission’s new approach to analysing health productivity, shifting the perspective from the unit measurement of individuals using the health system to the actual improvement of health. This has shown Australia’s health treatment productivity is improving, but identifies gaps in preventative health measures and duplication, where digital technology needs to be more effectively used.

The “Advances in Measuring Healthcare Productivity” research paper emphasises the productivity of healthcare by examining the outcomes of health treatments, such as those for lung cancer, and exploring the possibility of lower-cost settings for treatment, such as home-based care. This approach resulted in a notable 3% increase in productivity annually, showing improved health outcomes and enhanced value for money.

While the research highlights the improving productivity of health treatments, it also emphasises the importance of addressing the factors leading to illness, particularly in light of Australia’s high rates of obesity and alcohol consumption. By tackling these issues, substantial reductions in healthcare costs can be achieved. The research also identifies digital technologies as a promising avenue for cost reduction in healthcare, particularly in minimising excess testing and delivering care in more cost-effective settings.

When accounting for health risks in the population, Australia ranks third among 28 comparable high-income countries in terms of healthcare value for money, indicating the country’s strong performance using this method of measurement.

The second research paper “Making the most of Technology in Healthcare”, underscores the detrimental impact of inadequate electronic medical records on patient care quality, citing preventable medication-related errors costing approximately $1.4 billion annually. Additionally, it emphasises the significance of effective electronic discharge processes from hospitals in reducing the risk of readmission.

The research has advocated for the effective utilisation of digital technologies, including electronic medical records, telehealth, remote care, and artificial intelligence, in the healthcare system. It highlights the potential of these technologies to significantly reduce costs, citing potential savings of about $5 billion for hospitals by reducing test duplication and expediting patient discharge.

Remote monitoring technologies can reduce complications for high-risk diabetes patients, but funding structures need to be improved to maximise their benefits. To that end, the research emphasises the potential of digital technologies to revolutionise the healthcare system, provided that effective utilisation and appropriate funding structures are in place.

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