The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed technology in healthcare that could revolutionise the healthcare sector into the public eye but the question remains, why did it take a disaster to reveal them and how does the sector keep the momentum going?
As the deadly virus made its way across Australia, virtual healthcare and Telehealth were quickly rolled out and 3D printing was used to manufacture face masks and goggles as personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages became apparent.
While these technologies aren’t new, the threat of wide-spread infection exposed their potential.
Chai Chuah, a prominent figure in New Zealand’s healthcare sector and former director-general of health, now advises organisations on the future of healthcare which he believes will include genomics, artificial intelligence, robotics, wearables, nanotechnology and 3D printing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought some of these technologies out of the woodwork where they were previously ticking around in the background, unable to penetrate the “fortress” of the healthcare sector, Mr Chuah told INTREPID.
“All these technologies are kind of bubbling away quietly in the background and sometimes it kind of feels like it's a hammer looking for a nail to nail down,” he said.
"But then suddenly you get something like COVID-19 and then boom, like the lid’s just taken off.
"Virtual care has literally happened overnight, particularly in the primary care setting and to some extent in hospitals because hospitals are saying to the patient, please don't come in you can use tele consultations.”
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, also suddenly came to the healthcare fore, according to Mr Chuah, who said “pockets of innovation” were producing face masks and other PPE.
“So the question is what are all these things out there now? Do we need to actually wait for a pandemic, or can we be proactive to unleash this exponential energy?,” he said.
“If you ask my view, my view is, there is not a fat chance in hell in any health jurisdiction for them to be that proactive.
“They will only react.”
The “natural strength” of the healthcare system is its ability to “rescue”, says Mr Chuah, but it has also become a major weakness for the industry which is slow to adopt revolutionary technology before a disaster strikes.
"I think the private sector is about to go through a lot of change and I think there'll be a lot of incumbents who will go out of business and then I think there's gonna be a whole lot of new ones come on,” he said.
“"In the new wave of the private sector, how do we harness them for them to be able to provide solutions?”
Giving support to younger professionals to rise up the ranks, such as academics and scientists, will form part the way forward to secure a technologically advance future healthcare system, says Mr Chuah.
“What we do need to is to invest in the developing and helping the young ones come through to help navigate some of the land-mines,” he said.
“For people like us in our generation, I think the best thing we can do is share the experience and let them figure out what the solution looks like.”