The state of Australia’s public hospitals.

Australia’s public hospitals are special places. Our public hospitals provide high quality, accessible care for all and they provide a training ground for our doctors and nurses. They are important public institutions that we’re lucky to have.

However, our public hospitals are facing significant challenges, as the community’s health needs change. Here are three key challenges now facing our hospitals, which need to be addressed if hospitals are to continue to meet public expectations and demand in the years ahead.

Increased demands.

The increased demand on hospital services is partly due to Australia’s ageing population; older people are more likely to need hospital admission and are also more likely to have one or more chronic illnesses that require attention. Chronic illnesses have a large impact on our hospitals, as conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and respiratory conditions now effect up to one in five Australians. However, there has also been an increase in the rate of admissions for people under 70 years of age.

The demand for services will need to be met on several fronts. Firstly, by attracting and retaining more staff. Secondly, by maximizing the use of resources and minimizing any “down time” in surgery and bed usage. And lastly, by working with primary health providers to prevent and reduce hospital presentations.

Cost pressure.

Public hospitals have been subject to budget cuts for the past few years. While there is some scope to improve hospital efficiency, the cuts have hit hospitals hard. In an era of cost pressures, hospitals need to listen to patients and staff before developing strategies for sustainable service delivery and growth. Using methods such as Research as Engagement, hospitals can gain deep insights while establishing valuable stakeholder relationships, giving confidence that strategies and plans are evidence based.

Ensuring quality of care.

Ensuring patients have a high quality of care, and are safe whilst receiving care, is an ongoing challenge for all hospitals. There have been incidents in every Australian state, where things have gone wrong. Quality management processes are obviously important, but issues management strategies and plans, education and employee support are also needed.

For quality management processes to work efficiently and effectively, information must be shared. Communicating well and regularly with staff, via multiple channels, ensures information flows and processes can be established. Hospitals face numerous barriers to effective communication, such as inconsistent work hours, internal power hierarchies and the continued use of outdated technology like pagers. By encouraging feedback, quality management processes can also be refined and improved in an ongoing way.

It’s also important to communicate well with patients, who are more involved in their own care than ever before. By focusing on the patient, an efficient information flow is more likely to occur, which will assist in streamlining patient care in hospital and enhancing communication between hospitals and community-based health providers.

The challenges facing Australia’s public hospitals are significant. Increased engagement, research and communication with staff and patients will help hospitals to meet these challenges in the future, so that our hospitals can continue to provide the community with accessible, quality care.

Talk to us about research and communications in the hospital sector.