The shifting focus of health
The way we think about healthcare is changing. Over recent years we’ve started to see a move from a predominantly reactive healthcare system to a more proactive one with a growing focus on preventative care and long-term wellbeing.
The sick care model is no longer enough
The Australian health system, like much of the rest of the Western world, was originally designed as a system for caring for the sick. This means it’s geared towards dealing mostly with acute diseases that are generally short, easy to diagnose and cured with treatment. Under the sick care model, the emphasis is on reactive healthcare and responding to patient illness after diagnosis, and not on stopping it from occurring in the first place.
The problem with this is evident when we look at today’s overstretched health system. With chronic conditions making up a greater proportion of the disease burden than ever before, focusing solely on acute care is no longer viable if we want to ease the pressure on practitioners and healthcare facilities and help our patients live long, healthy lives.
The burden of chronic illness
The need for a shift from reactive to proactive medical care has come about largely due to a recent increase in chronic illnesses, combined with our greater understanding of what causes these long term, debilitating diseases.
While Australians do have a longer life expectancy than in many other countries, we also have a high rate of chronic illnesses, with around 50% of Australians currently living with a chronic health condition. Illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and arthritis were responsible for 87% of deaths in Australia in 2016. For the patients who are living with these diseases, there are often added social and economic consequences that can seriously affect their quality of life.
Chronic illness differs from acute illness in that it usually involves a complex range of causes and often results in some level of functional impairment or even disability. Most significantly, many chronic illnesses don’t have a straightforward cure, which means the traditional acute care model is simply not effective.
The Australian Burden of Disease Study, published in 2019, found that 38% of Australia’s disease burden could have been prevented with the removal of certain risk factors. The health risks associated with smoking, drinking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are well documented, yet still our rate of chronic illnesses is rising.
The good news is, as we become more aware of the different risk factors and the habits that can contribute to them, we become more aware of what we can do to prevent or at least delay the onset of many of these illnesses.
The role of the proactive practitioner
Increasingly, we’re seeing a need for healthcare practitioners to play an active role in encouraging ongoing health and wellbeing in their patients, so they can ward off preventable diseases and stay healthy for longer.
For those who do have chronic illnesses, GPs are likely to play an increasingly large role in helping them manage their disease and remain as healthy as possible through initiatives like care plans and team care approaches that adopt a more holistic approach to health, nutrition and mental health care.
While many GPs are already taking a proactive approach to patient care, high patient loads and health crises like COVID-19 mean that many are simply too overstretched to provide the level of care they would like.
How technology can help
To enable practitioners to take a more proactive approach, we need to find ways to lighten their workload so they can have more time to spend educating their patients and helping them avoid the risk factors associated with chronic illnesses.
Technology has a big part to play in helping GPs work more efficiently and flexibly so they can free up more time to spend with their patients. New and existing developments in software and technology are here to empower GPs so they can be more proactive in caring for their patients and help them live long, healthy lives free of chronic diseases.