COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down. Most major industries have been disrupted and the healthcare sector has been no exception.
Faced with incredible challenges, healthcare professionals have had to innovate – and fast – with new ways of working that may change the healthcare system forever.
We need more health workers
As healthcare workers have redeployed to new COVID-19 clinics, it’s caused major staff shortages in other areas.
Dr Hanan Khalil, Associate Professor of Public Health at La Trobe, discovered this firsthand.
‘As a registered pharmacist, I was asked by my professional organisation if I was interested to be put on a list to work as a locum pharmacist to support shortage of health care workers if needed,’ she said.
‘Other professional organisations did the same to ensure there were sufficient health care professionals available.’
Working in a resilient sector
Despite the challenges created by the pandemic, the last year also proved how resilient the healthcare sector can be.
‘It’s one of the few industries that can survive in an economic downturn,’ said Dr Khalil. ‘And there are opportunities in a variety of both patient and non-patient facing roles.’
As the coordinator of La Trobe’s Master of Health Administration, Dr Khalil understands how important it is to prepare students for a range of management roles in both the public and private sectors.
Focusing on developing both leadership skills and practical tools, she’s shaped the course to meet the demands of today’s healthcare system and equip tomorrow’s leaders with essential knowledge and experience.
‘There are challenges – you need to enjoy helping and caring for people,’ says Dr Khalil. ‘But this is why skills such as resilience, innovation and being adaptive are important.’
The evolution of digital health
During the pandemic, demand for telehealth and digital health technologies has surged. More than 10 per cent of Australians have accessed telehealth services in 20211, with 13.6 million patients using the COVID-19 MBS telehealth services between March 2020 and April 2021 alone. This saw the Australian government invest a further $114 million to extend the use of telemedicine2.
‘The pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital health technologies,’ said Professor James Boyd, La Trobe’s Chair of Digital Health. ‘Digital technology has helped us maintain quality care, accessibility and safety while minimising face-to-face consultations.’
Electronic health records. Real-time data harvesting. Voice assistants. Wearable devices and mobile health apps. These are just a few of the digital health technologies on the rise.
‘Health consumers have started to see different options to the way they can access health services during the pandemic – and they don’t want everything to go back to the way it was pre-COVID,’ said Professor Boyd.
‘We use technology in our day-to-day lives to access services, book restaurants and monitor our fitness. Consumers expect to have the option to interface with the health system in the same way.’
New leaders in digital health
And as consumers demand new and better digital health solutions, the healthcare sector has an increasing need for leaders who understand the technology – and can use it to its fullest capacity.
‘Digital innovation is transforming our lives,’ said Professor Boyd. ‘Finance, manufacturing, retail and automotive industries have been revolutionised by artificial intelligence, smart grid technology and the Internet of Things. Healthcare is next.’
With an eye to the future, Professor Boyd designed La Trobe’s Master of Digital Health to prepare graduates for tomorrow’s challenges. Developed in consultation with industry leaders, healthcare experts and data specialists, it gives healthcare professionals the skills they need to innovate, lead and succeed.
And with the pandemic far from over, the health landscape will continue to give us new challenges – and opportunities to evolve.