Artificial intelligence is strengthening the eyes and ears of doctors as Australian healthcare sectors struggle with a chronic labor shortage.
AI has created an arms race in the creative industries after the launch of Microsoft-backed ChatGPT, Google hastened to introduce its rival chatbot, nicknamed Bard, while Rolling Stone is testing the technology to write news articles.
But can it also help heal and cure the sick as well as generate essays, songs, business leader staff notes and more? Robots tending to humans sound like science fiction. However, it has become a reality.
Hearing implant producer Cochlear has partnered with Google and audiologists to use AI to help people hear again, using machine learning in a similar way to director Peter Jackson’s sound restoration for his documentary The Beatles: Get Back.
But it is also used as an everyday tool throughout the healthcare industry. While most technologies are deployed to free staff from mundane administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments, they are also used as a diagnostic tool.
CommBank Health chief executive Albert Naffah said doctors are embracing AI in telehealth consultations to glean more information than they can by simply listening to or observing a patient through a phone or screen. .
“It’s not just the doctor’s eyes and ears through the screen that make the diagnosis, but it’s the machine learning in the background that is able to notice changes in appearance, voice , to diagnose a cough, for example, to have that augmented experience between clinician and patient,” Naffah said.
CommBank’s GP Insights report for 2023 found that around 80% of GPs in Australia struggle to recruit suitable GPs, along with nurses (74%), specialist doctors (62%) and facility managers. practice (56%). ).
Mr Naffah said service providers were accelerating their adoption of digital solutions in a desperate effort to meet a surge in patient demand and a shortage of staff.
“The shortage of health care skills and its impacts on both workers and the wider sector present major challenges in Australia,” he said.
“From the perspective of practitioners, the skills shortage means there are fewer staff to provide patient care. But there is light on the horizon. Medical practices are investing more in digital solutions and automating time-consuming administrative tasks, digitally recording and streamlining bookings, payments and claims frees up valuable time for practitioners to focus on patients.
The use and growth of telehealth consultations are controversial. Although the technology has allowed doctors to treat patients anywhere with a reliable telecommunications connection, it has also fueled fears that patient care could be compromised.
The Medical Board of Australia has taken action to contain a pandemic-fueled explosion of telehealth care, which it says “should not be seen as a substitute for face-to-face consultations”.
Under the proposed new guidelines, which are based on recommendations written a decade ago, doctors are warned not to prescribe drugs to new telehealth patients.
But major players in Australia’s $2 billion digital health sector fear proposed changes to telehealth and other tech-enabled medical consultations could restrict access to timely treatment.
This comes as the pandemic has already exhausted an overstretched healthcare workforce. Even before Covid-19 hit three years ago, a federal government report predicted Australia needed 85,000 more nurses by 2025.
Meanwhile, private hospital operators were harnessing skilled migration to bolster the workforce, and companies such as Healthscope were introducing programs to free nurses from paperwork and other administrative tasks so they could spend more time with patients.
Such is the severity of the healthcare workforce crisis that a small regional town in Western Australia – Quairading, 164km east of Perth – has offered $1 million and a rent-free house to a doctor seeking to fill his position as a general practitioner earlier this year.
The ABC is trying to make a name for itself in the health insurance claims market, launching a new app-linked device earlier this year that it hopes will make card terminals obsolete.
The move is another boost in the CBA’s ambition to unseat National Australia Bank as the country’s largest business lender. NAB’s Healthcare Industry Claims and Payments Service – or HICAPS – has dominated the healthcare industry for decades.
But NAB’s grip has loosened in the face of competition from Tyro Payments, while last October CBA won a lucrative contract to build a new point-of-care complaints channel for the NDIS.