What lies ahead for Australian healthcare post-COVID

Post-pandemic, there’s an opportunity for widespread disruption across the healthcare and cybersecurity landscapes. This week, Cathie Reid discussed her recent move from the pharmacy world into the cybersecurity industry, and discusses how Australia – and the rest of the world – is managing digital immunisation records.

Note: the content below has been updated to reflect the current state of healthcare in Australia and may differ to the original podcast recording.

You’ve made quite the career switch from healthcare and pharmacies to cybersecurity. What’s driven that change?

At face value, it does seem like a significant switch. But one of the things I’ve always been interested in throughout my time in healthcare is the digitisation of information and the way that accessing information and storing information electronically enables better healthcare provision. I’m exploring how we can actually utilise that in our business, particularly when my business has been across so many regions and the need to provide and access information securely has been paramount.

So when you look at it through that lens, it’s actually not such a disconnect to have gone from healthcare into cybersecurity, because we’ve been dealing with and managing issues of patient privacy and protection of information for a really long time now.

Is that your focus for 2021 – innovating within cybersecurity as it aligns to your healthcare initiatives?

Yes. I’m coming to the end of my healthcare career. My husband Stuart and I are in the process of selling the pharmacy business we’ve built over the past 20 or so years. For the last four years now, I’ve chaired a company called AUCloud, which is a sovereign provider of infrastructure-as-a-service, and that company was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in December last year, so it keeps me pretty busy. It’s definitely one of my major focuses for 2021 as we grow that business, and also to work through the changed landscape of shifting from a privately owned company to a publicly owned company.

What are your thoughts on the privacy of healthcare records and the benefits we can get by housing them appropriately? What happens when you start to bring lots of pieces of information together around the person’s health records to do things like the genomic work that you’ve spoken about previously?

One of those early conversations around some of the projects that UKCloud were working on at the time was something that was quite simple from a government perspective – you often have different departments controlling different bodies of information, and that’s quite useful if you can connect it all together.

So to illustrate, UKCloud was working on a project where the immunisation records were sitting with the health department, but the births, deaths and marriages were in a completely separate body of work. But it’s really useful to be able to bring the two together because then if you know who’s been born and who’s been immunised, for example, you can track what percentage of the population of babies born in any given window of time are actually going through their immunisation schedules and getting that protection against childhood diseases that used to be so fatal.

Combining those two records is actually quite easy to do securely when they’re both hosted in cloud-based infrastructure, especially in contrast to those hosted either in legacy on-premise information or, worst-case scenario, as paper records in filing cabinets. Being able to put that information securely into the cloud and build those connections where needed can actually be really beneficial both for the overall dataset as well as the population health aspects.

One of the major contributors to the success of digital records versus paper-based records is probably the adoption of technology at a much earlier stage of the medical-record lifecycle. Would you agree with that or is there something more?

The Israelis have had a digitised health-records system in place for close to 20 years now. It’s not just widely accepted, it’s universally accepted for every medical appointment and in every medical interaction you can have in Israel. It’s all recorded. It’s all stored there. So it’s created a much easier space for them to be able to add the immunisation records, for example, across all of the appointments.

After my friend in Israel had his first COVID-19 vaccine, within 48 hours he received a text message with a link to a survey around any adverse effects and what his experience had been like. Then as soon as he sent the survey responses, he got the electronic appointment for his second vaccine. Once he’d had the second vaccine, the ‘digital immunisation passport’ landed in his wallet.

It’s certainly a sophisticated and well-oiled machine that has been running well over there. But without having that infrastructure in place, it certainly provides a few more challenges than I’d like. In Australia, I don’t think we’re in a position yet where we can deliver as seamless an outcome as maybe the Israelis have, but I’d certainly like to hope that we’re a long way from the worst-case scenario.

Where do you think we will land in Australia – will it be more state-based, will it all be driven at the federal level, or will it be a combination?

The decision was made to house the vaccination records in the new updated Medicare app, which I have downloaded, and when I received my first dose of the vaccine about a month ago I was pleasantly surprised to see the vaccination record appear within a few hours of the dose being administered.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the transfer of that information into the other local and global products which will require it, particularly for travel related purposes, will be handled, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Want more insight into the world of security, identity access management, biometrics and more? Get your weekly fix with the Identity Today podcast, hosted by Daltrey MD Blair Crawford. You can start on Episode 1 here or listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.