There are fears that the US’s overreach in Iraq and Afghanistan, in combination with its tenuous financial state, may spell the end of its global hegemony. But the superpower’s downfall is just as likely to be caused by the cost of MRI scans as it is by defence spending.
Health remains the greatest non-security challenge Western governments face. The task of managing an ageing population, whizbang technologies and a demanding public is awesome.
Australia is not quite in the budget quagmire on health, but there is every chance its proportion of gross domestic product costs will continue to rise above the current 10 per cent. One of the great potential contributors to efficiency in what is notoriously the most inefficient of sectors is the electronic patient record. By allowing for more efficient sharing of information, health records stored as a transferable entity in digital form could transform the entire sector.
The electronics and computing revolutions of the past several decades have reshaped much of medicine, giving us advanced imaging techniques, microchips for monitoring and regulating heart function, and countless new diagnostic tools.
But the information infrastructure of healthcare lags behind. Patient records and the data needed for determining effective medical practice remain decidedly low-tech.
Just about every other industry – financial services, travel, entertainment, communication, you name it – has been radically remade by information technology in the past two decades. But not healthcare.
Entrepreneurs have harnessed science and technology to make dramatic advances in the practice of medicine but the health information system remains archaic and paper-bound. This paradox gets to the heart of why healthcare is simultaneously so impressive and so frustrating. The opportunity cost of inaccessible and unused data is particularly high for the millions of Australians suffering from conditions such as diabetes, mental illness and heart disease. This type of chronic disease increasingly forms the bulk of sickness and relies on team co-ordination to deliver high-quality care.
Such sufferers would benefit enormously from regular, systematic analyses of their condition based on automated reviews of their key health indicators. It would also save taxpayers billions of dollars.
One of the key concerns from consumers is about the privacy and security of the data. This is a particular concern among mental health sufferers who worry that sensitive information will become available to other health providers or even employers. But we have been willing to accept some risk to our privacy in exchange for convenience in the wide use of the internet banking, shopping and other services involving personal information. If patients could make greater use of the internet to improve their interactions with their doctors, they would quickly see the benefits and accept the risk, knowing there are appropriate safeguards.