Bupa Health Foundation: The future of healthcare

Former federal health ministers, top healthcare professionals and Bupa's senior leadership discuss what the future of Australia's health care system will look like.

The Australian health system needs to look outside itself for innovative solutions to solve its structural problems says former federal health Minister and Bupa Board member Nicola Roxon.

Ms Roxon, Health Minister in the Rudd and Gillard Governments (2007-2011) was speaking at a Bupa Health Foundation event in Sydney to discuss the future of healthcare in Australia.

Innovation, in the form of disruption- and where to find it- was a key theme of the panel conversation.

“Because of the way our system works, the disrupters could actually be completely outside the health professions,” said Ms Roxon.

Ms Roxon warned the audience, which was largely made up of health industry professionals that they needed to give ground to each other so consumers didn’t go for quick fixes in the absence of major health reforms.

“We already spend a huge amount of money on non-pills and vitamins for a whole range of things. The worry is that disrupter could actually be more damaging than a more modest disruption that would actually require people to give up a bit more territory.”

She was joined by Dr Michael Wooldridge, Health Minister in the Howard government (1996-2001) Bupa’s Managing Director of Health Insurance, Dr Dwayne Crombie, and ABC broadcaster Dr Norman Swan.

“I think the key question is to figure out what is the problem and what are you trying to fix,” said Dr Wooldridge. “I think the health funds could be the disrupters if they were allowed to.”

“But they’re not allowed to at the moment and they’re not rewarded for being disrupters,” said Dr Wooldridge.

I would like to see an environment where there was far more incentive to innovate than exists today and I’ll just give you one example. In 2000, we led the world in health IT.
Dr Michael Wooldridge, Federal Health Minister, 1996-2001

“The challenge inside the healthcare system, especially around more integrated care is to find ways to continuously adapt and innovate that don’t require big bang changes or major political reform,” said Dr Crombie.

Ms Roxon pointed to major reforms health reforms like Medicare, Medibank and tobacco controls, stressing a wide coalition is needed.

“The sorts of success on areas where there have been big reforms you’ve all the stakeholders wanting the same thing, so tobacco control (for example) that was relatively simple in a way because everyone agrees about the harms of tobacco and all sorts of unusual partners everyone agreed to do it.”

“I think we need to build the platform for what are the things that these unusual partnerships all want, because governments can’s make it happen if there isn’t enough agreement amongst these very difficult stakeholders all want.” said Ms Roxon.

At the centre of the discussion was keeping the consumer at the centre of all change.

Bupa Health Foundation chief, Annette Schmiede, reminded the audience to advocate for the consumer in the complexity of our current system.

“Any change has got to consider the current reality: how our structures currently are, what arrangements are in place, the public-private mix, what should that be, how we finance healthcare, the role of private health insurance, how we pay for services, the under-resourcing of prevention, priority driven research, the list goes on. But at the end of the day, the system needs to work for all consumers,” she said.

“I want us to talk about the outcomes for people and work out how all the different bits of the system can deliver that,” said Ms Roxon.

Dr Crombie outlined current and future challenges for the health system: the importance of the first 1000 days of life; obesity as the leading cause of ill health; and social isolation.


Dr Dwayne Crombie, Managing Director, Bupa Health Insurance
“Our system is way too hospital centric and designed for a different time and place.” 
Dr Dwayne Crombie, Managing Director, Bupa Health Insurance

“If you ponder how we might address these three big issues it is not hard to see that strategies and programmes to proactively manage them up front do not occupy much of the time or resources of the traditional health system.

“All require an ‘investment’ mindset with long lead times to show change (10+ years). All require complex behavioural, cultural and social change, there isn’t a magic bullet (or pill) to fix them,” said Dr Crombie.