As vaccination rates bring us closer to a post-pandemic period, it's time to think about what that means for Australian hospitals.
Evidence suggests better medical infrastructure is needed to handle the next pandemic, including more hospital beds in intensive care units and more medical staff.
COVID-19 has no doubt burdened the healthcare system, but while building more healthcare facilities is a necessary part of the solution and will allow more patients to be treated, it is also a stop-gap measure.
Rather than just investing in more resources, we should invest and focus on developing technologies that enable our health system to become more efficient and sustainable.
One of the developing technologies that may help conserve valuable resources is regenerative medical technology - bioresorbable scaffolds that allow patients to regrow their own damaged tissues and bones, rather than replacing them with permanent implantable prostheses.
These scaffolds help the healthcare system become more sustainable for a simple reason - they reduce patient follow-ups. Post operation, it's important a patient visits their surgeon regularly.
Permanent metallic and polymer implants are commonly used to replace or assist in the healing of damaged tissue and bones, but these implants require ongoing maintenance, and can get infected, break or loosen over time.
That places significant demands on a surgeon's time (a valuable resource) and the patient's time as well, many of whom may not be equipped to travel to a hospital on a regular basis.
For example, a surgeon might complete 50 knee implants annually over a two-year period. By the third year, the surgeon will have 100 patients to follow-up on in addition to a steady stream of new patient consultations.
Ultimately, a large proportion of the hospital's resources and this experienced surgeon's time will be spent following up on existing patients, making it increasingly difficult to attend to new cases. But these are problems we can address through regenerative medical technology.
With regenerative implant devices, once the bone or tissue has been naturally regenerated, the patient is free of foreign materials and structures.
Consequently, they don't need to come back for frequent visits, freeing up hospital resources for others in need.
It's innovations like these that will be crucial in coming years to make sure we have a sustainable and fit-for-purpose health system, rather than just spending taxpayer money on building more and more resources that may never get used.
- Goh Khoon Seng is the CEO of Osteopore International.