Co-Author: Tomoyuki Wakamura, Business Development Manager

Divergent responses to the pandemic and a stutter-step start to global vaccine administration have shown just how varied global health systems are; challenging notions about strengths and weaknesses – ­at home and abroad. We’re taking the pulse of healthcare in our region, using perspectives from Australia and Japan, to provide insights into broader telehealth and connectivity themes at play across the continents. The pandemic reshapes healthcare daily, but as we move forward into 2021, we’re seeing concrete glimpses of what’s to come. The future of healthcare is starting to emerge in the wake – and hopefully a foreseeable ebb – of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Updates 

Australia seems to have controlled the initial waves of the pandemic, with most states recording very few – and often zero – new daily case numbers. Opening up after prolonged lockdowns, Australia now confronts  the return of international travelers and the task of ensuring quarantine systems are tight, reasonable, and resilient.

In Japan, case numbers have been steadily increasing since November 2020. There is a growing concern about the ability of the health system to cope. Emergency medical services have been severely affected by the inability to accept patients leading to a state of emergency being declared in 11 prefectures. Additionally, with the spread of the new coronavirus variant, travel to and from overseas has been restricted.

The Healthcare Dominoes

Beyond the obvious implications the pandemic, Australia is now bracing for some of the more hidden implications of COVID-19.  Healthcare organisations and workers at the heart of the pandemic response, have been stretched, tested and pushed. Now they are tasked with combatting the emerging mental health concerns, long elective surgery lists, and caring for patients with undiagnosed or worsening conditions not addressed during lockdown. To handle the demand, new models of care are being adopted including virtual care, augmented telehealth, and digital care models.

In Japan, investment in telehealth is also growing in order to prevent further community spread of the virus and stem hospital-acquired infections. The government has recently changed its regulations to allow for broader telehealth adoption. This includes allowing initial patient visits to be done remotely. In addition to telehealth services, virtual prescription consults and medication home-delivery make it increasingly unnecessary for patients to physically visit a pharmacy.

Another urgent need is to reorganise medical facilities to accommodate COVID-19 patients, while maintaining bandwidth for emergency medical services. Plans are underway to designate Japanese hospitals to either address the pandemic or reserve capacity for patients unaffected by COVID-19.

Technology and Healthcare Now in Australia and Japan

Along with the reallocation of COVID-19 cases among designated hospitals, Japanese hospitals are transforming to accommodate more critical care patients. These transformations also include steps to better protect healthcare workers as they care for patients. Collaborative digital tools such as Cisco Webex are being used to reduce the need for physical contact in all care environments.

For example, connectivity tools will assist in allowing Maebashi Red Cross Hospital to continue to provide in-demand, non-emergent specialties. Currently, their collaboration with Showa University Dental Hospital plays an indispensable role in keeping orthodontics services – a rare specialty in the region – alive.

Flexibility and connectivity are also playing a large role in meeting Australia’s healthcare system needs. The pandemic has placed pressure on care spaces, causing providers to rethink how they manage their physical infrastructure. Carparks moonlight as testing facilities and convention centers have been fitted with beds and medical devices that enable high-acuity treatment. Telehealth has become vital to the front line; allowing clinicians, family, and friends to communicate with patients safely.

With increased reliance on connectivity tools, cyber security is also becoming a chief concern for both countries. Investment in securing networks must keep pace with attackers that grow more sophisticated by the day. In order for providers to sufficiently guard their patients – and their reputation – they need to protect every aspect of their digital assets from record databases to medical devices. That means going beyond legacy perimeter-based systems with integrated security portfolios that react to new threats as they emerge.

What’s on the Horizon for Healthcare

Healthcare systems in Australia and Japan both await a clear course on safe and efficient vaccine administration. Those answers should materialize over the next few weeks and months. Of course, a real uncertainty remains; when, how, and to what extent will a vaccine allow a return to normality in healthcare and beyond. Time will tell.

What we can expect with certainty over the next few years is a transformation in healthcare catalyzed by the pandemic. Health systems will revisit core dynamics in order to improve outcomes, safety, and efficiency. All this will be possible through virtual care, network security, and technologies that support workforce safety and organisational efficiency. Thankfully, minds and budgets look more open to new models of care, practices, ways of interacting with patients for now – and potentially – for good.

Beyond healthcare perspectives in Australia and Japan, Cisco is committed to an inclusive recovery and an inclusive future. Learn about the first steps toward that expansive vision through streamlined vaccine delivery.