One of the many lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the value of cooperative approaches to health care, where public and private sectors work together across jurisdictions towards improved service delivery and outcomes.
However, a string of recent royal commissions, Productivity Commission reports and industry investigations have identified some key challenges facing primary care and its integration with hospitals, aged care, disability and mental health.
They are challenges to be accepted and embraced head-on.
These include the need for people-centred models of care; flexible, multidisciplinary and integrated service delivery; digitalisation, data analytics and artificial intelligence; and remodelling of occupational boundaries.
Widespread health workforce shortages are affecting a range of operations and reform plans across the health and care sectors.
While coronavirus forced a mass pivot and rethink of approaches to the delivery of care, it would be foolish to wait for another wave – or another pandemic – before integrating those lessons into ongoing contemporary practice.
The Productivity Commission suggests that “we will need to showcase innovation and success stories where we find them” and provide a framework for piloting and adopting innovation.
With that in mind, a discussion paper Aspen Medical recently delivered to policymakers and healthcare leaders sought to offer innovative solutions for workforce productivity improvement in the sector.
It has a particular focus on the aged care, disability care and mental health industries to promote consideration and dialogue with governments.
“While workforce shortages are currently being addressed through better pay, skilled migration, training and education policy reform, the Productivity Commission has identified ‘cost disease’ due to low labour productivity in the caring sector as a pernicious cause of health workforce shortages,” the paper explains.
“Consequently, productivity growth is considered an essential remedy.”
The discussion paper aims to inspire health and care sector leaders to think about improving workforce productivity.
Aspen Medical does this by drawing on its own ideas, successfully implementing initiatives and its experience in transforming health care in the most challenging environments.
“While some innovations born from the pandemic are promising, a worrying underlying trend is the relatively low, and in some cases declining, productivity of labour in the health and care sector,” the paper states.
“A number of pathways to improve productivity have now been recommended by several government enquiries and reviews.
“This paper showcases Aspen Medical’s practical deployment of some of these pathways and suggests how they can be incorporated further into solution development.”
Aspen Medical Advisory Services general manager Robyn Hendry says, “For some, the idea of increased productivity translates to working harder with no additional resources.
“This is not what is needed and if productivity issues are not addressed, lower quality care becomes the default position, which will see more people leave the profession.
“Rather, we need a re-examination of how care is provided and improve services through redesign, innovation and empowering those who are receiving care. We need to pilot different approaches in integrated care systems. No one solution is the answer.”
Aspen Medical has several programs demonstrating productivity improvement, highlighting three of them in the discussion paper.
Example 1: The Remote Area Health Corps, which co-designs and delivers bespoke programs to address the persistent challenges that Northern Territory Indigenous communities face in accessing primary care.
High levels of support for those new to remote work ensures these professionals are productive from the beginning of their placement.
Example 2: The rapid establishment of 150 GP-led respiratory clinics to augment the testing and subsequent vaccination effort during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collaboration with Telstra ensured the productivity gains from assured functionality of information and communication technology at commencement.
Example 3: Through a partnership with the Hawaii Native Corporation, Aspen Medical is providing full case management 24/7, 365 days a year via telehealth services to United States defence personnel facing mental health challenges.
Early access to full case management via telehealth aims to keep more of these personnel working productively.
The examples in the paper showcase some of Aspen Medical’s deployment of the strategies that are necessary to increase productivity in the health and care sectors. They have also shown how they can be incorporated further into their business solutions.
“Our ‘care system’ has an overarching objective of delivering high-quality and efficient care. If it is to solve the labour productivity conundrum, it must pursue a transformation journey,” the paper states.
“The COVID-19 pandemic showed that rapid transformative change is possible and highlighted the types of change that will be required to address productivity challenges in the care workforce.
“The Productivity Commission suggests the necessary transformation requires showcasing innovation and success stories, leading to the possibility of large-scale implementation.”
The role the private sector can play in accelerating healthcare transformation is explored by suggesting pilot programs be implemented on multiple fronts.
These could determine which elements will make the difference in the transformation journey and how health service demand might be met with an already stretched workforce.
Discovering the practical things needed to boost primary care to reduce acute care is another focus of the discussion. And if AI is the answer to health transformation, its practical applications must be explored.
Royal commissions into aged care quality and safety, Defence and veteran suicide, and the mental health system (Victoria) have all exposed the need for significant improvements in care delivery.
This paper discusses how access to service must be less frustrating if delivery is to be lifted.
“Proactive quality improvement must become an obsession for all health and care service designers and service delivery managers, as business as usual will not be enough to overcome the current challenges,” Ms Hendry says.
Aspen Medical shares some ideas as value propositions for potential solutions to some serious challenges.
These include a virtual care offering to the aged care sector, mental health offerings to the Victorian Government and the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and in disability and aged care to proactively manage health and wellbeing for consumers and carers.
“The purpose is to inspire others with our ideas and experience in transforming health care in the most challenging environments and motivate the healthcare industry to work with us wherever we’re needed,” Aspen Medical’s discussion paper says.
To read the discussion paper, visit Aspen Medical.