People vs machines and the future of healthcare

Annual Metro North Health Forum explores healthcare trends at the cutting edge

Automation will impact around half of all jobs in the economy and is coming to general practice, whether we are ready or not.

This was the view of Dr Stefan Hajkowicz from the CSIRO, who was keynote speaker at the Metro North Health Forum in Brisbane on 19 June 2018 and responding a question about his presentation on ‘healthcare megatrends’.

This forum is an annual event hosted by Metro North Hospital and Health Service (HHS) and Brisbane North PHN to highlight key local initiatives that connect and coordinate healthcare.

At the GP Breakfast preceding the forum, Dr Hajkowicz suggested some elements of work undertaken by practice receptionists seemed most likely to be automated in the future.

“Aspects of what you want to automate in your GP practice is all the boring and annoying stuff about getting to see one,” Dr Hajkowicz said, adding that this might include helping patients to select a GP of a particular gender or with the shortest queue.

“I think you could have face recognition as I walk in the front door, which also does emotion detection [and] gives you a readout. It’s got to be private and confidential and well managed, but I wouldn’t see that as a problem,” he said.

A senior principal scientist in the field of strategic foresight at the CSIRO, Dr Hajkowicz is also director of the Data61 Strategic Insights Team.

This is a group of Brisbane based researchers and consultants who examine trends, risks and opportunities with a focus on the digital economy.

Dr Stefan Hajkowicz presenting at the GP Breakfast
prelude to the Metro North Health Forum 2018.

One of several megatrends Dr Hajkowicz and colleagues have identified is the impact of innovative technologies and processes that make healthcare more efficient.

Chief among these technologies is artificial intelligence (AI) and he cautioned that while “90 percent of what you hear on AI is hype, the 10 per cent that isn’t can change your whole profession”.

Nevertheless, Dr Hajkowicz said looming AI automation was unlikely to replace GP receptionists completely because people still preferred human interaction.

He quoted studies showing the risk of automation on doctors and nurses roles was quite low, but said,”…there would be quite a few other professions in healthcare where there is a higher likelihood of that occurring.”

“Generally we want to bring on this automation. This is also a huge cost saver in the healthcare system and improved quality of service to patients if done well, but we don’t lose the people. We want to transition them.”

View the GP Breakfast summary video

Megatrends at Metro North

Closing the GP Breakfast was Metro North HHS Board Chair Dr Rob Stable.

Metro North HHS Board Chair Dr Rob Stable.

After unexpectedly undergoing abdominal surgery in the USA recently, Dr Stable was keen to share his views on innovation and the human experience.

“I can tell you I want the human experience. I want the face. I want the empathy, if you like, and the support,” he said.

Dr Stable recounted a study into radiography several years ago that showed patients preferred the reassurance of interacting with a person, rather than a machine.

“And I think this is what general practice is about: knowing the person, knowing their whole picture. And so I personally wouldn’t be worried about automation taking up primary healthcare and most of what we do in hospitals,” he said.

Also picking up on the megatrends concept was Metro North HHS Chief Executive Shaun Drummond.

Mr Drummond said Metro North HHS was planning for future health needs by looking at areas of growth, both geographical and clinical.

“To prepare for the megatrends at a local level, we have mapped out a plan for the next 15 years, which includes infrastructure, workforce development, clinical models, and research and innovation,” he said during the opening plenaries.

“We will match our facilities with teaching institutions to allow our culture of innovation and translational research to thrive and reduce the time from bench to bedside,” he said. Mr Drummond said the HHS would work with its future workforce to help them understand and deliver care, “not just in the concrete walls of the hospital, but throughout the community”.

“It’s really important that, as we are training the clinicians of the future, that we have them understand the paradigm that we’re now faced with, and the opportunities,” he said.

Connecting for the Future

Much of the remainder of the day was organised into three concurrent streams, which further developed the Metro North Health Forum’s ‘Connecting for the Future’ theme.

The concurrent steams were grouped around the ideas of ‘Connecting People’, ‘Connecting in New Ways’ and ‘Connecting the System’.

Popular with attendees was a session that encouraged participation with sector leaders in the creation of a better connected health system for older people.

Professor Don Matheson leads an interactive session on
designing a health system around the needs of older people.

Professor Don Matheson, the General Manager of the joint PHN and HHS Health Alliance, led an interactive presentation with audience members seated around and looking into a ‘fish bowl’, within which an older person’s healthcare experience played out.

Another session engaged attendees in a discussion about how a future joint regional mental health plan might look, while others covered such topics as maternal and early childhood health, chronic wound care management, and dental services for people who are homeless.

PHN Chief Executive Abbe Anderson provided an update toward the end of the forum, followed by a presentation on ‘Value Based Healthcare’ by Nick Steele, Deputy Director General, Healthcare Purchasing and System Performance at Queensland Health.

Mr Steele said, since 2012, the local health system had focused on producing more volume, e.g. addressing waiting lists in hospitals and that Metro North HHS had been very successful at this.

“What that model is great for is to try and deliver some of the system outcomes that we want from a waiting list perspective.

What it’s not good at is to try to focus attention on safety, quality and outcomes,” Mr Steele said.

“It’s entirely possible for us at the moment to be doing the wrong things, but to be doing them in a technically efficient and safe way,” he added.

He said technically efficient hospital services delivered safety and quality, “but in terms of the outcomes for the patient they’ve been suboptimal”.

According to Mr Steele, the system needed to look at allocative efficiency and particularly, “how we allocate our resources in a different way to maximise the benefits for the residents of Queensland”.

“And that’s what value based healthcare is hopefully going to enable us to do, is to start to look more at producing activity in the right time, in the right location – not necessarily within an acute hospital – and actually undertaking the right procedures and interventions,” he said.

To view keynote presentations and videos from this and previous forums, go to









View the 2018 Metro North Health Forum summary video