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    What to expect in 2021 - trends and innovations in healthcare

    Medibank customer Yvonne Wilson receiving dialysis at home

    A new year offers a fresh start and never have we needed one of those more after the disruption to 2020 caused by COVID. When looking to the year ahead, the impact of the pandemic continues to loom large, resulting in seismic shifts in healthcare and our day to day lives. Here’s what our senior leaders expect to see this year.

    Craig Drummond, CEO
    Unsurprisingly Australians have become more focused on their own health through this pandemic. This has been demonstrated through 2020 with the first uplift in the proportion of Australians taking private health insurance cover since 2015. In part this is due to the pressures on our public health resources stretching out elective surgical wait times. This development is inevitably forcing a rapid and innovative response as to how we can more efficiently utilise existing public and private healthcare capacity and optimise future spending. There is no doubt in my mind considerable focus will switch to more doctor led preventative healthcare (primary care), hospital avoidance and hospital substitution (such as virtual and clinical homecare) and where clinically appropriate, more short stay surgical procedures.

    Australia has a wonderful dual public/private system, but in order to keep it that way, considerable change is necessary to ensure such outstanding care remains readily accessible and affordable for all Australians.

    Andrew Wilson, Group Executive – Healthcare & Strategy
    We are being provided with an opportunity to advance health system changes that may ordinarily take decades to achieve. It would be a waste of all we have learned in 2020 if we didn’t seize this opportunity. Faced with the pandemic, the Australian health system has shown how it can quickly adapt and respond to a national health crisis. Traditional barriers were lifted, and regulatory and funding decisions were made and implemented at light speed.

    Rather than saying virtual care and telehealth is the way of the future, our collective challenge is to determine how we can use it to better improve the patient experience.

    If we were to design healthcare around the patient and their family, more patients would be offered the opportunity to receive care within the comfort of their own homes when clinically appropriate. This requires an appetite for change from both patients and providers, to move away from the traditional bricks and mortar ways of working. My sense is that consumers have an appetite for change, but providers need greater incentives from funders – be that governments or private health insurers – to run healthcare in a way that puts patient needs first.

    John Goodall, Group Executive – Technology & Operations
    COVID has accelerated many aspects of healthcare service delivery – video and telephony consultations, with digital prescriptions, are now firmly part of the system. Remote and in-home care and monitoring is now a real option outside of hospital care. And different parts of the system partnering to provide more holistic health services is gaining momentum. I expect these to grow through 2021.

    As well, I don’t think the way we work will ever go back to pre-COVID times. We’ve realised that working remotely has its benefits, but the office environment has its place for collaboration and connection. This thinking applies to the healthcare industry as much as any other industry. Learning from what has worked well, and where we’d like more balance, will play an important role as we consider where and how we work in 2021.

    Kylie Bishop, Group Executive – People & Culture
    The COVID pandemic gave those who traditionally worked in an office a taste of how things can be done differently. It removed the commute to and from work and provided greater flexibility in the day for people to balance their professional and personal lives. Working from home meant that people could meet health and wellbeing goals, eat dinner earlier, and spend quality time with their families.

    As we move into a post-2020 world, people are going to want more choice in where and how they work. Corporate Australia has, for the most part, developed an understanding of the benefits of allowing greater flexibility in where their employees want to work. We know that when employees feel supported, productivity increases, and people are more engaged.

    Many businesses are redefining the purpose of the office to be centred around the type of work being done. The office will become a place of purpose; to collaborate, connect, and if needed concentrate. No longer will they be places you must go to because it's Monday.

    David Koczkar– Chief Customer Officer
    2021 will see the community increasingly focus on their health and wellbeing. COVID has caused a lot of change in our lives and we’ll need to continue adapting for an ongoing period – people will want to feel more in control, to have more choices and to understand preventative options to stay healthy and happier or better manage any ongoing conditions. This is now more important for us all and we are therefore more discerning.

    Additionally, as more people work from home more often, this will influence the adoption of digital, telephone and home-based health and wellbeing offerings – think ergonomics and mental health support – and we’ll continue our focus on supporting the different health and wellbeing needs of our customers and corporate Australia.

    Linda Swan – Chief Medical Officer
    During 2020, many Australians experienced periods of anxiety and a heightened concern for the future. For many this experience was relatively short lived, however some people will be affected by long-term anxiety or a deterioration of an existing mental health condition caused by this anxiety. The types of people likely to be impacted include healthcare professionals, people placed in quarantine or isolation, people who experienced or cared for life-threatening cases of COVID, those with pre-existing anxiety or mental health disorders or those who have lost jobs or had their education and careers disrupted.

    There will be a need for more support and access to mental health treatment for these people and we are likely to see higher rates of Australians accessing treatment in both the private and public sectors. However, given the recent shift to more health services being delivered by telehealth and more care occurring in the home, it’s also likely that we will see innovation in the way mental health is delivered.

    Mei Ramsay, Group Executive – Legal, Government & Regulatory Affairs and Company Secretary
    Technology will become even more important for the effective governance of companies. It has been such a critical enabler for organisations and people to continue to operate in 2020, given the restrictions we have been living under.

    In the legal and governance area, technology combined with legislative reform has allowed us to do things we never previously imagined – from electronic signatures and remote witnessing of deeds (yes, I know that doesn’t sound very exciting but it is for us lawyers!) through to virtual AGMs, allowing shareholder participation from across the country. Although these reforms at this stage are only temporary, I hope the Commonwealth and State Governments can see their way to making some of these changes permanent, as well as supporting more innovative ways we can use technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our organisation.

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