Watch the Becoming Digital in Health Sciences colloquium event

It might seem counter-intuitive, even provocative, to introduce a digital health colloquium with the statement, “It’s not about the technology”. Yet the common thread in June’s Becoming Digital in Health Sciences Research colloquium was proof that some needs in health are timeless: care, support and information. How can data and digital innovation help?

The event, co-presented by the School of Health Sciences and the Centre for Digital Transformation of Health (DT4Health), marks the arrival of digital health as a cross-cutting theme in the School’s revamped research strategy.

“Timing is everything,” said Head of School Professor Linda Denehy, citing the World Health Organisation’s identification of digital health as a key strategic focus.

“Our future is in both how we implement our research findings for the betterment of patient outcomes and part of that implementation will be using and implementing digital health,” she said.

Professor Wendy Chapman, Associate Dean of Digital Health, and Centre Director, said many disciplines are required to transform health through the lens of data and digital innovation. “It’s not about the technology – it’s about the transformation of health.”

Video: use the time stamps in the description to navigate to speakers.

In his introduction to the lighting talks, event host Dr Mark Merolli charted the elevation of digital health as a burning platform in 2020 – not surprisingly, Mark, a physiotherapist, has been busy this year developing Allied Health telehealth modules for the School.

Dr Suzanne Kapp kicked the talks with her project to transform nurses’ ability to measure and manage wounds. Physiotherapist Rachel Nelligan reported on the success of an app-based exercise and behavioural-change program for people with knee osteoarthritis, to lessen demand for joint replacements. Dr Marianne Coleman spoke about leveraging routinely collected eye exam data to support pubic health research.

The talks were brimful of advice on engaging end users early in co-creation, thinking through implementation from the very start of a project, partnerships, funding and intellectual property.  A consistent theme was the growing burden of chronic disease swamping the ability of health systems to provide quality, face-to-face care for the people who need it.

“This is a global issue,” Professor of Social Work Lynette Joubert said of her research on the stresses on informal carers of people with disabilities in India and Australia, which has led to development of a supportive care app.

“Being able to extend the services of organisations through digital applications is a critically important factor for reaching people who might otherwise not have got adequate support”.

Associate Professor Karyn Galvin spoke on developing an app to help adult cochlear implant recipients in the first six to three months after implantation, a time of momentous adjustment to their new device.

As cochlear devices become more accessible in low-to-middle income countries, a shortage of audiologists who can provide the intensive care required has highlighted a gap that digital solutions could help meet.

“The current face-to-face clinical service model is outdated and unsustainable in terms of patient numbers, the services required and the number of people requiring that service,” she said.

An expert panel followed, where participants heard from researchers, clinicians and industry experts about how digital health can support decision-making, implementation of interventions and health system performance.

The advent of Electronic Medical Records has generated rich data sets in standard care, now ripe for the application of clinical questions – such as a project at Austin Health on early identification of patients of risk of developing sepsis. Kath Feely, Chief Allied Health Information Officer, Parkville EMR, says it’s a good time to be “making friends with the reporting teams at the hospitals”.

“People can see the benefits of it, but we are still at the start of that information gathering. We’re encouraging clinicians to engage internally with their research teams to make sure that we’re capturing the information that is really important and also getting them to think about what are the clinical questions that we want answered.”

Kath was joined on the panel by Professor Andrew Turpin, head of the Melbourne Data Analytics Platform MDAP, an important resource available to researchers to obtain data specialist support for projects, along with DT4Health Data Science lead Dr Douglas Pires, Dr Chris Pearce from Outline Health, Associate Professor Jo-Anne Manski Nankervis, and Head of Nursing, Professor Marie Gerdtz.

The day was capped off with a mentoring session led by DT4Health’s Kathleen Gray, and a concept ideation workshop led by Wendy Chapman, Daniel Capurro and Douglas Pires, and from DT4Health, in which digital health research proposals were put through their paces in a quasi-SharkTank format.

The DT4Health is currently hosting an ongoing seminar series, with the next seminar event to be held online on Thursday, September 2nd. A/Prof Jessica Wiens from the University of Michigan will discuss how artificial intelligence can be used to augment clinical decision-making. Read a short abstract here, and click here to register.