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FEATURE: The smart grid of the future can work seamlessly with healthcare


In a world where everything is connected, the smart grid will be good for your health; why your energy provider should be talking to your doctor

Covid-19 has shown us just how quickly Australian doctors can ramp up telehealth consultations, spiking to 4 million consultations a month at the height of the pandemic.

By November 2020, more than 3.2 million regional and remote Australians had accessed telehealth services, but telehealth is just one small step on the path to truly digital health.

Imagine a world where 24/7 remote healthcare monitoring lets you, and your local GP know if anything needs to be evaluated in person.


How do we get there?

Enabling digital health services for regional and remote Australians is now a high priority for Infrastructure Australia, meaning the agency wants it to be actioned within five years.

Digital healthcare uses technology to collect and share health information, and enables out of-hospital healthcare models including community, home-based and virtual care.

Futurist Ross Dawson says the convergence of the digital energy grid with digital healthcare will help provide the data needed to make healthcare more sustainable.

“Two of the major central themes of the future of health involve data - from individual data monitoring of vulnerable people in their home, correlating to data for personalised medicine.”

Deeply data-based homes - connected to the smart grid - could help make health more sustainable by collecting information via your bathroom, your movements throughout the home and even when you’re at rest.

“The aggregation of all that data would then allow the combination of home robotics, increased connection to family and friends, plus community care to be able to support people.” All without the need for a GP consult.

Smart meter data could be used to develop an understanding of routine behaviours in the home - when an older person isn’t using their toaster, kettle or washing machine, it might suggest their health is deteriorating.

Wearables and sensors already help people with chronic health conditions like diabetes or heart disease more easily share information with their GP or caregiver, but connected smart homes combined with digital healthcare could enable people to manage their healthcare more proactively.

Imagine a world where volunteer care workers could securely share their credentials including police checks, and be called upon to make in-home care visits to elderly neighbours who might benefit from their experience.

At a population level, smart meter data could be compared with weather data to detect cold or hot homes and unhealthy environments, paving the way for government-led energy efficiency programs designed to prevent poor health outcomes before they occur.


Rethinking the grid

Around one billion people rely on health facilities without electricity supply, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. Some will leapfrog traditional grids, supported by the declining cost of renewables and the growth of microgrids.

That same leapfrogging could see a different level of cooperation between energy and health providers than that seen in the developed world, as governments seek to deliver more cost-effective in-home or community-based healthcare.