Tech and Innovation is the future of Healthcare

Steven Parrish from Mater Health explores the potential of technology in healthcare at CXO Disrupt Brisbane.


According to the best available analytical data, Australia is facing serious challenges in the healthcare sector as it moves forward into the century.

An ageing population, cost, and affordability form a trio of issues that could potentially cripple healthcare.

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Parrish at CXO Disrupt, Brisbane

This was the primary theme that formed the basis of Steven Parrish’s presentation at OmniChannel Media’s CXO Brisbane Conference in 2015.

Parrish, the CIO at Brisbane’s Mater Health Services, offered up his personal insights to the packed audience, where he explored: “what needs to change now, and how technology can be the key enabler for that.”

What the sector needed most he said, besides embracing the possibilities of innovation, was a re-think of its mindset. Right now the model provides care in the best interest of the carers. “We need it around the clock; it may cost more, but we need to look at efficiencies in doing that process.”

He started by laying out some figures, which on close analysis offer some alarming projections that will inevitably impact policy and management.

For instance Parrish noted that the retirement age for Australian’s has gone up and will in all likelihood continue to rise; by 2064 his said, 23% of the country’s population will be over 65. The GDP spent on healthcare is 9.8%.

“Ten years ago it was 8.5%. It is increasing slowly. If you look at the dollars spent the average expenditure per person ten years ago it was $3500 – now it is $6500.”

Healthcare is a supply and demand model, he said and: “We cannot afford to keep putting money into it because the demand is so high. In private healthcare, we manage the high demand with funds and co-payments. We use dollars to change the behaviour in healthcare.”

Based on those figures, in ten years healthcare will be unaffordable, he said: “As a country that is a big issue and we have to deal with that.”

Parrish, quoting the famous opening narration of Star Trek, told the delegates that the solution was to take on these challenges with bold, new ideas, new models, and approaches.

Taking the proliferation of data as an area ripe for technological innovation, Parrish said that healthcare traditionally uses paper – and in many instances, still does:

“We need to do better than that… we need to apply analytics over a paper record, and that can be quite challenging; so we need to change that information into something electronic that can be consumed by systems.”

He noted that the appetite for privacy amongst consumers may not be what regulators believe it to be. That there is a gap between what privacy believes is good for the patient, and the patient’s own interest in sharing their data to allow them the best result. Parrish insisted that this gap needs to be closed.

Parrish presenting at CXO Disrupt, Brisbane

He then noted the exciting possibilities that the Internet of Things (IoT) will provide.

Parrish believes that it will alter the way data is stored, retrieved, and managed: “You might not know it, but the IoT can be used to make a difference to your health. It will change the way we approach programs to impact on your health or the potential for health in the future.”

Part of the new order of data in health is mapping the DNA of one person – that is using genomics.

It can take up to two terabytes of data, he said. “If you apply that to an entire population you can try to discover what they predisposed to.” The process has been reduced to 200 gigabytes per person.

“The key here is to turn that data into information, into knowledge, and then into something we can make the right decision on at the ‘coal face’.”

What the data could provide, he said, could be a focus on wellness and prevention over illness.

“What this means is that we need to focus on the consumer before they are a patient.”

In terms of reform, he suggested that insurance companies ought to be able to tailor packages to individuals within a social good framework. Applying genomic data should not result then, in huge premiums for those pre-disposed to a particular issue.

Parrish believes that a creation of ‘data as a community’ could well provide the focus for the best outcome.

“This is saying that any piece of data may actually be important to that outcome: that could be what people buy; where they go; what sporting clubs they belong to; it could be what is on their Fitbit,” he said.

Of course, Parrish admits that there are problems to resolve in his suggestions and reforms. However he concluded by saying that:

“If we focus on a potential solution we can work through all of those problems as they come up and not use the problems as the thing that stops us from doing something in the first place.”