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As younger and more digitally adept physicians and healthcare professionals continue to enter the workforce, older norms are being challenged and digital-driven processes are becoming more commonplace. This intergenerational shift has significant implications for healthcare. Soon, digital natives will make up the majority of patients, clinicians and healthcare leaders, and will expect healthcare services to be as technologically progressive as other areas of commerce and industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated widespread adoption of digital tools such as telemedicine, virtual care and SaaS technologies. In Australia, 4.3 million health and medical services were delivered to a total of more than three million patients through the telehealth items introduced by the Australian Government for the COVID-19 pandemic. The role of technology in everyday care is likely to keep growing, as new policies on remote working, interoperability of data and e-billing become standard. Combined with patients who expect more convenience and ease of access to these services, we are poised for a major shift in the way our healthcare and community services are managed.

The rise of healthcare SaaS

Ever since COVID-19 struck, the healthcare sector has been under tremendous pressure to operate in real-time and to provide easy access to data in multiple locations on demand. Many healthcare organisations are turning to SaaS solutions as a more affordable way of deploying cloud-based electronic health records. SaaS applications are being deployed across hospitals, clinics and healthcare organisations, which include apps for electronic medical records, Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS), telehealth, operations management, billing, supply chain management, payroll, financials and more. More and more healthcare organisations are onboarding CIOs and digital officers to support their digital transformation, and SaaS has proven to be a major driver of their digitisation initiatives.

Even though a lot of progress is being made on this front, healthcare facilities and community services in Australia and New Zealand are still in the early stages of their digital transformation. But the advantages are clear: embracing SaaS will expand the use of automation, analytics, interoperability and mobility tools, setting the stage for healthcare services to extend beyond hospital walls and enable health and community services to reach the people who need them most.

SaaS services also support the security, auditing, and operational efficiency requirements of telemedicine apps, patient engagement tools, tools and smart devices, making them more cost-effective and efficient than most on-premise data centres, especially when operation, maintenance and upgrading costs are factored into the equation. Being able to scale up or down in sync with operational needs enables rapid growth for the organisation and allows them to respond much more quickly to an increasingly dynamic healthcare landscape.

How healthcare and community services can adapt to the change

There are a few ways organisations can prepare for the generational shifts in healthcare.

First, technology should be seen as an enabler for every aspect of healthcare operations, from clinical workflows, provider engagement, to patient care. This also means using technology to enable more convenient access to care for patients as well as more flexible working arrangements for clinicians, such as working remotely with flexible hours.

Second, clinical workflows will need to adapt to fit the expectations of digital natives. Every aspect of our working lives is becoming digitally-enabled, and a cumbersome healthcare system that does not conform to these norms can be jarring and frustrating for both patients and care providers. To realise efficiencies, user interfaces and workflows need to provide the same kind of intuitive ease-of-use that is found in everyday e-commerce and consumer apps.

Finally, the culture of medicine and community services needs to become flatter and less hierarchical. Younger generations should be involved in the decision-making process to develop healthcare management systems that are suited to modern ways of working. Doing so will help our healthcare system become more adaptive, more efficient, and more flexible. Ultimately, this will lead to a more robust healthcare and community care system which will enable workers to provide patients and clients with better care, quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.

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