CSIRO releases ‘Future of Health’ report

| September 12, 2018

A new report launched today by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, provides a new path for national healthcare delivery, setting a way forward to shift the system from illness treatment, to prevention.

The CSIRO Future of Health report provides a list of recommendations for improving the health of Australians over the next 15 years, focussed around five central themes: empowering people, addressing health inequity, unlocking the value of digitised data, supporting integrated and precision health solutions, and integrating with the global sector.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said collaboration and coordination were key to securing the health of current and future generations in Australia, and across the globe.

“It’s hard to find an Australian who hasn’t personally benefitted from something we created, including some world’s first health innovations like atomic absorption spectroscopy for diagnostics; greyscale imaging for ultrasound, the flu vaccine (Relenza); the Hendra vaccine protecting both people and animals; even the world’s first extended-wear contact lenses,” Dr Marshall said.

“As the world is changing faster than ever before, we’re looking to get ahead of these changes by bringing together Team Australia’s world-class expertise, from all sectors, and the life experiences of all Australians to set a bold direction towards a brighter future.”

The report highlighted that despite ranking among the healthiest people in the world, Australians spent on average of 11 years in ill health – the highest among OECD countries.

Clinical care was reported to influence only 20 per cent of a person’s life expectancy and quality of life, with the remaining 80 per cent relying on external factors such as behaviour, social and economic support, and the physical environment.

“As pressure on our healthcare system increases, costs escalate, and healthy choices compete with busier lives, a new approach is needed to ensure the health and wellbeing of Australians,” CSIRO Director of Health & Biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell said.

The report stated that the cost of managing mental health related illness to be $60 billion annually, with a further $5 billion being spent on managing costs associated with obesity.

Health inequities across a range of social, economic, and cultural measures were found to cost Australia almost $230 billion a year.

“Unless we shift our approach to healthcare, a rising population and increases in chronic illnesses such as obesity and mental illness, will add further strain to the system,” Dr Grenfell said.

“By shifting to a system focussed on proactive health management and prevention, we have an exciting opportunity to provide quality healthcare that leaves no-one behind.

“How Australia navigates this shift over the next 15 years will significantly impact the health of the population and the success of Australian healthcare organisations both domestically and abroad.”

CSIRO has been continuing to grow its expertise within the health domain and is focussed on research that will help Australians live healthier, longer lives.

The Future of Health report was developed by CSIRO Futures, the strategic advisory arm of CSIRO.

More than 30 organisations across the health sector were engaged in its development, including government, health insurers, educators, researchers, and professional bodies.

Australia’s health challenges include the fact that Australians spend on average 11 years in ill health – the highest among OECD countries – and that 63 per cent (over 11 million) of adult Australians are considered overweight or obese.

There is also a 10-year life expectancy gap between the health of non-Indigenous Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples while 60 per cent of the adult population have low levels of health literacy and the majority of Australians do not consume the recommended number of serves from any of the five food groups.

The benefits of shifting the system from prevention to treatment include improved health outcomes and equity for all Australians and greater system efficiencies that flatten the cost curve of health financing.

A shift would also create more impactful and profitable business models and see the creation of new industries based on precision and preventative health.  This would lead to more sustainable and environmentally friendly healthcare practices while more productive workers would increase job satisfaction and improve work-life balance.