Medibank leaders share thoughts on the year ahead

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Some of Medibank's most senior leaders have shared their thoughts on the year ahead and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

CEO Craig Drummond said Australians have become more focused on their own health as a result of the pandemic.

"This has been demonstrated through 2020 with the first uplift in the proportion of Australians taking private health insurance cover since 2015," he said.

"This development is inevitably forcing a rapid and innovative response as to how we can more efficiently utilise existing public and private healthcare capacity and optimise future spending.

"There is no doubt in my mind considerable focus will switch to more doctor led preventative healthcare (primary care), hospital avoidance and hospital substitution (such as virtual and clinical homecare) and where clinically appropriate, more short stay surgical procedures."

Andrew Wilson, Medibank's group executive of healthcare and strategy, said the pandemic has provided an opportunity to advance health system changes that might ordinarily take decades to achieve.

"Faced with the pandemic, the Australian health system has shown how it can quickly adapt and respond to a national health crisis. Traditional barriers were lifted, and regulatory and funding decisions were made and implemented at light speed.

"Rather than saying virtual care and telehealth is the way of the future, our collective challenge is to determine how we can use it to better improve the patient experience."

He said a healthcare system designed around patients and their family means more would be offered the opportunity to receive care in the comfort of their own homes.

"This requires an appetite for change from both patients and providers, to move away from the traditional bricks and mortar ways of working. My sense is that consumers have an appetite for change, but providers need greater incentives from funders – be that governments or private health insurers – to run healthcare in a way that puts patient needs first."

"COVID has accelerated many aspects of healthcare service delivery – video and telephony consultations, with digital prescriptions, are now firmly part of the system," said John Goodall, group executive of technology and operations.

"We’ve realised that working remotely has its benefits, but the office environment has its place for collaboration and connection. This thinking applies to the healthcare industry as much as any other industry. Learning from what has worked well, and where we’d like more balance, will play an important role as we consider where and how we work in 2021."

According to Medibank chief medical officer Dr Linda Swan, "During 2020, many Australians experienced periods of anxiety and a heightened concern for the future. For many this experience was relatively short lived, however some people will be affected by long-term anxiety or a deterioration of an existing mental health condition caused by this anxiety.

"The types of people likely to be impacted include healthcare professionals, people placed in quarantine or isolation, people who experienced or cared for life-threatening cases of COVID, those with pre-existing anxiety or mental health disorders or those who have lost jobs or had their education and careers disrupted.

"There will be a need for more support and access to mental health treatment for these people and we are likely to see higher rates of Australians accessing treatment in both the private and public sectors. However, given the recent shift to more health services being delivered by telehealth and more care occurring in the home, it’s also likely that we will see innovation in the way mental health is delivered."