As I mentioned in my last blog, the arrival of technologies like AI, home testing devices and the rebalancing of the historic medical information asymmetry, mean that consumers are increasingly empowered to care for themselves. What’s also clear to me is that, whether it’s private health insurance or the provision of actual healthcare, Australians are not just theoretically empowered to care for themselves—they are actually keen to take the digital leap. The Accenture 2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health indicates that Australian consumers would choose virtual care for a variety of activities. While just 12 percent of those surveyed have actually received virtual healthcare so far, the benefits for individuals are compelling.

There are many instances where virtual interaction with care providers would save time, reduce costs, and greatly improve convenience. An overwhelming 83 percent say they would use virtual care to receive reminders to do things to stay healthy, for example. Nearly two thirds of Australian healthcare consumers (65 percent) would use virtual care for an after-hours appointment, and 75 percent would use it for daily support to manage an ongoing health issue. There are some cases that require a face to face appointment, but even many urgent cases can be dealt with by means of telehealth.

Further confirmation comes from Accenture’s study on person-centred segmentation for a better healthcare system. The study showed that the 18-29 age group is particularly hungry for virtual interaction when it comes to private health insurance. Ten percent of the Australian private healthcare insurance market, representing AUD$2bn, is churning annually. The research indicates a core determinant of switching behaviour (apart from policy costs), is the accessibility of digital offerings made available by competing healthcare insurance organisations.

The virtual care doesn’t need to be complicated. Smartphones and PCs all enable direct audio-visual conversation. In China and the UK it’s already common to have telehealth conversations. In fact, in China it’s more common to have a teleconference with a GP than a face-to-face appointment. Australia is lagging.

Even more obvious than the need for reactive care to go virtual, is the need for many aspects of proactive care to do so. Women of childbearing age who use the contraceptive pill (generally between 16 and 56 years of age) don’t particularly want to go to the GP every time they need a new prescription. Even though the pill can affect blood pressure, digital engagement has an answer for that too—digital blood pressure cuffs are cheap and common. Many other tests can be done through self-care as well. This is a massive opportunity. Maintaining consistent blood sugar levels if you’re diabetic greatly reduces the risk of limb amputation, and digital healthcare can help with both the measurement of blood sugar and the reminders required to take insulin or eat appropriately. Recent clinical findings have discovered that it’s similar for blood pressure in terms of ultimate cardiovascular outcomes. Consistent adherence to proactive care protocols significantly improve the health outcome, and once again, digital health can provide both the measurement and reminders needed to maintain that crucial consistency.

Given the virtual healthcare benefits being achieved in places like the UK already, to ignore the combined technical ability for patients to care for themselves, and their willingness to do so, would be to miss out on a prime opportunity. A certain amount of caution is advisable when implementing new technology on a broad scale, but AI and virtual care technologies are already proving themselves, and Australians should not be left behind.

Ian Manovel

Managing Director – Innovation Principal Director Health, ANZ

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