What are the lessons for Australia from the World Innovation Summit for Health , which has just wrapped up in Doha Qatar?

Jack Heath, CEO of SANE Australia, who participated in the summit, says major themes included the need to better support carers and self-care.


Jack Heath writes:

Over the past two days, 1000 leaders in health innovation from 67 countries gathered in Doha Qatar to address some of the world’s biggest health challenges.

Convened and supported by the Qatar Foundation, the summit focused on eight areas:

  • Mental health
  • Patient Engagement
  • Obesity
  • End of Life Care
  • Accountable Care
  • Antimicrobial Resistance
  • Road Traffic Injury and Trauma Care
  • Big Data.

The participants acknowledged that healthcare systems around the world face similar challenges with an ageing population, an increase in non-communicable diseases and escalating costs of health care against a backdrop of budgetary pressures.

Alongside this, major advances in technology were seen as offering important avenues for intervening early and in new cost effective ways. This is particularly so in developing economies where there are extremely high rates of access to mobile phones coupled with a willingness, in even the poorest communities, to embrace technology.

A major focus of discussion was how best to diffuse innovation so that new and effective treatments get widespread application.

A global analysis of eight countries looking at how well they diffused innovation saw Australia in the middle of the pack.

The three most important elements in diffusing innovation were:

1) the identification and support for champions of change;

2) the engagement of patients and the public in service design and deployment; and

3) a strong focus on outcomes and sustainability.

Key themes to emerge were:

  • The importance of combating stigma whether it be around mental health issues, cancer, or death and dying.  Ill informed or ignorant views are a major impediment to people getting the right help early on. Late interventions come at great cost to individuals and economies so there is a need to invest in early intervention and prevention as well as stigma reduction.
  • Effective interventions are derived from a patient-centred approach with an emphasis on the critical importance of design.
  • The need to support carers across the full range of health issues as they are invariably over represented in terms of physical and mental health difficulties.

A highlight of the conference was the presence and keynote address of Aung San Suu Kyi urging people to remember the care in healthcare as she spoke movingly of her mother’s role as a nurse and received standing ovations.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, by contrast, delivered a bizarre dinner speech talking of botox and camels, English physicist Robert Hooke and the attractions living in London.

What Australia might take from WISH 2013

  • Reassurance that a country of our size renders us well placed to pursue and apply health innovations.
  • The knowledge that Australia is seen by many as a leader in eMental health. There is a need therefore for the Federal Government to invest more in this area to help drive down healthcare costs. eMental Health must become a core element in our national mental health policy.
  • The deployment of evidence-based practices is vitally important but it must go hand in hand with investing in and fostering innovation, which, by its very nature, is not evidence based.
  • The National Mental Health Commission is adopting the right approach by calling for people with mental health problems and their carers to be empowered to advocate for, co-design and help deliver mental health solutions.
  • Setting national targets and indicators remains essential to achieve better mental health outcomes and improve the lives of individuals
  • Recent investments in building a skilled mental health workforce are critical but we still have a long way to go.
  • Finally, we need to focus more on supporting people in their self-care rather than further expansion of clinical approaches, which are inherently resource intensive and costly to scale. Governments, have an important role to play in building an environment that encourages self-care.
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