Is Healthcare heading for a Perfect Storm?

Last year I was listening to a tech software guy talk about healthcare budgets and how that was shaping up as the perfect storm for the sector. It is an important problem for our society and raises a whole range of ethical and practical questions.

The key idea is that overall our health is better so most of us are living longer. Advances in medical thinking and practice can help us to fix many of the diseases and health conditions that were previously fatal or had a higher mortality rate.

Technology is one of the factors accelerating the performamce of health care systems but due to the growth in numbers of people needing healthcare the costs of keeping up is where the perfect storm idea comes from.

In New Zealand the 2012 healthcare budget is $14b which sounds like a lot but when divided by the current NZ population (4.4m) is around $3,200 each but when split between actual taxpapers it is a very significant number and one of the largest sector amounts.

The point is that the numbers are all very large and funding and managing the health budget for any government is not an easy task.

The simple answer to providing better health care more cost effectively has to be better use of technology. 

Why do I say that? The reason is 30+ years of experience as from talking with mostly GP’s on my own health. Most GP’s have access to various personal health records but much of the time they don’t have the time or the budgets to do much more than a high level overview.

On the NZ health budget on the face of it less than 1% was allocated to the tech part of the budget.

“The funding includes $16m in IT systems to provide faster access to test results.Another $4m would be spent on a national register of patients treated for heart conditions”…

Individual doctors do excel and that is great but better leveraging of clinical results and analysis using more powerful technology would very much help improve health outcomes generally.

You know what. I’m an expert on my own health and given some of the tech tools out there I can help my GP with his workload and as I age I’m very much motivated to do that.

I have been using or working in software for more than 25 years and it would be a net benefit to the medical profession and the health sector to crowd source some of that experience and expertise dont you think?

Orion Health is a $100m+ annual revenue company based in NZ and doing great things for healthcare technology worldwide but in  most of its business territories is only scratching the surface as medical and health professionals are very much in catch up mode on the technology front.

I mean we even have games now that can crowdsource protein model molecular models. (

I read about economists finally acknowledging what is called “multi-factor productivity gains” from technology. 

It is time that politicians also had a think about changing the health budget allocations to get much better results.

So what about a rethink.

“Surgery at the press of a button: Why not? In the not-too-distant future, machines will be able to handle most medical tasks. Missy Cummings talks about embracing our computerized future to advance human medical expertise.”

Mary Cummings is a professor at MIT and a former F18 fighter pilot who experienced a personal epiphany when she realised that landing a F18 on an aircraft carrier using an advanced form of auto pilot meant she wasn’t really needed and the tomahawk missle accuracy was way better than any other delivery intervention she or any other fighter pilot could do.

Have you seen what a commercial airliner costs – why do we need pilots for $150m + planes and the short answer is that we don’t really.

So what to do next. Obviously a career in health. I also liked the way that Prof Cummings brushed off the gender slight in the anecdote that she tells about being a fighter pilot.

That kind of outcome focussed resilience is very useful to here present role as a researcher in the field of human supervisory control.

Here are 2 clips of Mary talking about what come after beiing a fighter pilot and realising the technology is way better than the human element for her job at that time.

Here are the questions after the talk.Professor Mary Cummings has it right this technology will transform the medical profession and especially helo with the “analytical domain rather than the skills based domain”.

I like the idea that the patient community will become the tipping point to bring this type of thinking into the health care sector.

Yesterday one of my conversations related to a new project called Sense medical I can see that having better technology in the health sector is going to transform health outcomes especially given mobile and tablet based devices now readily available.

At the same time I was watching #TEDxCanberra and noting a bizarro situation that we had @JulieMcKay talking about gender equality in a post feminist world and what dawned on me was how little have learned as a society.

Later in the day we had a female hip hop dance group talking about how well they were doing as a dancers in a male dominated genre. Obviously the irony of working in a a genre that is mysoginistic and degrading to women for the most part had escaped them.

Most of us didn’t need a David Attenborough voiceover on the mating behaviour of slightly stupid 21st century homeo sapiens to get the point but I was a bit surprised that we could have both acts on the same programme.

Footnote: to would be miners and waterfront workers watch the robotics clip linked below.

Robots can replace a lot of low level roles so lets do that and be smart about how we spend our time.especially and including healthcare

So are we headed to a perfect storm in healthcare – yes. But we as patients and tech savvy people can help with so that so lets talk to policy makers and politicians about helping out.