Intergenerational Report 2023 – Opportunities for Pathology Technology and an Australian Wellness Economy

The recent Intergenerational Report published by the Federal Government highlights the trend of Australia’s aging population and increased cost-pressures on Health expenditure. This increased demand for high-quality care services will require continued investment in improvements on how we deliver those services.

This call for improved efficiency reminds us of the dramatic efficiency dividend delivered in the pathology sector over the past 30 years, led largely by technology suppliers. During this time, pathology services have benefited from innovation in automated devices – transforming labs from testing a few hundred patient samples a day to many thousands.

Today, the innovation trend continues with rapidly advancing genomic, proteomic, point of care, and digital technologies (including AI and machine learning). These pathology technology advances provide a clear opportunity to further transform how healthcare is delivered in Australia. With a focus on better patient outcomes, we’re delivering highly efficient screening, predictive and preventative testing, allowing early intervention and more informed clinical decisions.

In the Pathology Technology sector, evolution in diagnostics is par for the course – efficiency, cost, and performance improvements have driven the market for the past decade and more, resulting in a sector focused on solving some key health challenges we face as a nation while keeping MBS expenditure for pathology items flatlined (see Figure 1).

We have technology solutions that can identify at-risk populations, provide opportunity for early diagnosis of disease, and set patients on the right management journey. Tests have been developed to assist in the appropriate selection of medicines, while still more can monitor, often in real-time, the effect of treatments and support course correction. Tests and technology exist to bring critical patient information closer to a treating clinician, to bring the complexity of a laboratory diagnosis out to the bush or remote community setting. These tests exist, but we lack the funding and policy infrastructure to support widespread access and adoption. Plus, technological advancements are on course for rapid acceleration off the back of digital and AI-related expansions; we need to act fast to capitalise on these global trends. What can we do to ensure Australian patients can readily access life-changing diagnostic and supporting technology to improve their care?

The health budget pie is a finite resource, and every element of healthcare, from pharmacy and medicines to clinics and GPs, are all vying for their own small slice. On top of budget constraints, the IGR tells us we need to evolve our manufacturing sectors, focusing on “high-skill, high value-add areas”. Plus, we need to work out how to secure our vulnerable supply chains, laid bare by the recent COVID disruptions. The Pathology Technology sector is well-placed to respond to the call to action so succinctly outlined in the IGR:

Considering escalating health pressures, it will be important to ensure that the health system provides value for money. This requires a health system that innovates and prioritises funding a patient-centered and sustainable Australian healthcare system that delivers the best outcomes for communities. This will require funding arrangements that continue to effectively invest in preventive health and evidence-based health care spending.”

We could be investing in wellness-driven healthcare. Investing in technology that keeps patients out of hospital. Funding the tests that drive early diagnosis and reduced risk of chronic disease progression. Offering screening opportunities to arm patients with the information they need to make proactive decisions about their health.

The benefits of a wellness model ripple far broader than just Health. The Measuring What Matters Framework developed by Treasury, and referred to in the IGR, gives a nod to the multi-faceted approach we could be considering. Of the five key themes represented by Health, Security, Sustainability, Cohesion, and Prosperity, technology solutions that support screening & prevention of chronic disease speak to at least three directly. Outside of the obvious health benefits, investment in Australian-based commercialisation activities will foster dynamic local companies, create high-paying, fulfilling jobs, and contribute to economic growth. Australia has a real opportunity to be a regional epicentre in Med-Tech Development and Manufacturing. Our recently completed ADAPT report created a clear 6-pronged roadmap for how we could create a thriving local economy supporting Australian based companies in this critical sector.

As we look to what the future holds, we see opportunity rather than apprehension at the projection of our aging population and increased pressure on health expenditure. Opportunity to evolve our delivery of healthcare from a disease-treatment model to a wellness-preventative model. We already have technology to support this shift, and what is coming down the pipeline over the next four decades can only accelerate this vision.

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