The first thing people tend to think of with autonomous vehicles, or AVs, is the personal convenience factor.

No more searching for parking spaces – they can park themselves or just drive back home. No more having to leave work early to pick up the kids from school in peak traffic – just send your robot chauffeur to pick them up or even take them to soccer practice. A long commute, typically cause for frustration, now becomes a quiet space to start your day: drink coffee, read, even sneak in a power nap. The biggest changes will come from vast improvements in traffic flow due to the replacement of relatively limited human driving capabilities with advanced AI using algorithmic course-correction and traffic coordination between multiple vehicles on busy streets.

One area, however, that is often overlooked amid some of the excitement is the potentially life-changing impacts this can have on public health and integrated care.

The first major upside is a “fence at the top of a cliff” type solution. It may seem impossible now, but self-driving vehicles are likely to make car accidents caused by human error or drink-driving a thing of the past. This will drastically decrease the number of daily hospital admissions for both minor and serious injuries. Within a small scale use case like New Zealand, their Ministry of transport suggests close to 40,000 injuries caused by car accidents every year, a figure largely mitigated by AV’s.

First response services will also benefit immensely from an automated vehicle grid that can immediately clear a path for emergency vehicles. There’s also potential for callout reductions overall when inebriated or incapacitated persons can still get themselves to a care facility. Recently an AV, the Tesla Model X, made international headlines when it was able to be rerouted on the fly and pilot itself toward a hospital when the operator experienced a pulmonary embolism

A subtler improvement is in the long-term well-being of daily commuters. Motorway congestion – largely attributable to suboptimal decision making – will be massively improved by machine learning and we can reasonably expect some significant improvements to commute times. This has some potentially far-reaching health benefits not only in our physiological well-being but in our psychological well-being too. Numerous studies have indicated that commutes, especially long commutes, are strongly correlated with increased blood pressure, depression, anxiety and back pain.

Perhaps one of the most often overlooked but exciting developments, however, has less to do with improving safety and conditions for existing drivers and more to do with enablement and access. Many people previously disqualified from driving – due to disabilities, injuries or neurological disorders like epilepsy – will be given all new opportunities to enjoy the relative convenience and reliability of a private vehicle. The accessibility implications for disabled citizens, especially those of working age, are enormous. 

Entirely driverless ambulances are not beyond the realm of possibility either. Beyond the improvements to access and mobility, an autonomous ambulance gives paramedics more time to focus on patients. Paired with an integrated mobile care system, this would enable paramedics to be on hand, treating directly or looking up patient’s personal electronic medical record, to see what medications they’re on and if they have any relevant medication allergies. This would help them to make the most informed decision in the moment to ensure the best possible outcome for that individual. This is the goal of integrated care – healthcare that crosses organisational boundaries and different care settings. 

Automated vehicles are part of this new era in evolving healthcare, where we are orienting the health system around the patients and their lifestyles. It’s about delivering care that best serves individuals, we must promote more integrated care – bringing together services and systems across the health spectrum. Healthcare IT has a huge part to play in the seamless integration of our healthcare systems.

To learn more about navigating the journey to integrated care and the IT strategy to reach your destination download the white paper now!