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Older Aussies more keen on AI-supported surgery and virtual health than their kids

Seniors more at ease with robot doctors and appointments over the internet than younger generations, Accenture says

Australian over-65s are more comfortable going under the knife of a robot surgeon than younger generations, an Accenture survey has found.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of older Aussies would be “very likely or likely to have a surgical procedure where the surgeon is assisted by an intelligent robot”, compared with only a quarter of those aged under 65.

The finding is one of many in the report indicating that the country’s seniors are more at ease with artificial intelligence supported care and virtual health offerings than their children and grandchildren.

For example, more than half (51 per cent) said they would use an AI ‘doctor’ to give them emergency advice like ‘how to treat a snake bite’, while only 38 per cent of under 65s say they would do the same.

Some 22 per cent of seniors stated they would prefer robot assisted spinal surgery, compared with only 15 per cent of younger Australians.

“The myth that the digital revolution is only for the young continues to be disproven,” Accenture writes in its Australian Seniors Ride Digital Wave report.

Senior Australians’ have a significant appetite for digital healthcare. If given the choice, 55 per cent of seniors would have virtual follow-up care services after being hospitalised, nearly 60 per cent would participate in a virtual support group, and 64 per cent would have a virtual after-hours appointment.

More than half (56 per cent) would use a home device to test their own blood, and 40 per cent would use an AI-enabled virtual health assistant for help scheduling and financing appointments, according to the survey of 1,031 Australians.

The data also shows steady adoption growth in seniors using health apps, with usage increasing five-fold from 2.9 per cent in 2014 to 15.5 per cent in 2018. The vast majority (95 per cent) of these Australian seniors would also be willing to share health information from a wearable or app with their doctor.

Despite their willingness and faith in AI-based advice, virtual care and health data sharing, “service provision lags behind demand” Accenture says.

“Despite willingness to engage with these tools, less than one percent of Australian seniors have ever interacted with health-related AI, and just seven percent have received virtual care,” the firm’s analysts write.

According to Accenture, that represents a big opportunity for healthcare providers.

“Care providers who want to lead the Australian market into the future should be cognizant of the fact that demand is shifting rapidly, and supply is not keeping up. As care models evolve, private providers must act and invest to accommodate the hunger for virtual and AI in health,” Accenture notes.

“The disparity between demand for and use of, virtual health and AI tools (and the concomitant willingness to share data) may indicate that the market has not yet created the right solutions to meet demand,” the company adds.

At present around one in seven Australians (15 per cent) are aged over 65. By 2057 that proportion is expected to reach 22 per cent.

The ongoing Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is looking at a number of issues including how to deliver “accessible, affordable and high quality aged care services” to the growing number of people who chose to remain at home as they age, as well as making care more “person‑centred” by allowing people to ”exercise greater choice, control and independence in relation to their care”.

One of the terms of reference of the Royal Commission is how technology may help to do this.

“As the Australian population ages and care models evolve, private providers must make strategic digital health investments to meet demand and remain competitive. It is not just a matter of consumer demand, either,” Accenture Australia’s health innovation principal director, Ian Manovel said.

"In the context of Australia’s Royal Commission into quality and safety in care facilities, it should be remembered that aged citizens have a fundamental right to choose how they receive care. They are expressing a desire for more digital services."