Worldwide Healthcare systems are under pressure from ageing populations and rising rates of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and depression. Governments are increasingly having to deliver more with fewer resources, which is why new digital healthcare solutions may be the key to keeping up with demand for medical attention.
Innovative digital solutions across a range of medical domains will allow patients to be given timely health information about chronic disease management, or grant them access to timely and appropriate medical expertise in a highly cost-effective way.
Using these new tools, more people will be able to access preventative care, with alerts prompting interventions before an emergency occurs. Hopefully this will reduce hospitalisation rates and provide researchers with access to privacy protected health data at a population level, delivering a wealth of new data for research.
$200M digital health initiative
The new, $200 million Digital Health CRC, announced in April 2018, will operate collaborative programs across health, aged care and disability sectors in partnership with 16 universities, 40 commercial and government organisations and 24 start-ups.
“Industry is looking for digital solutions to be developed and validated through provision of access to ‘test-beds’ and for pathways to market,” says CEO David Jonas. “Australia has pioneered many health advances. If we act now, the Australian health industry can be pioneers in digital health transformation and leaders in digital health technology.” Analysts predict the global digital health market to reach $349 billion by 2024.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that during 2016–2017, more than a quarter of the patients making up the 7.8 million presentations to 287 public hospital emergency departments nationally did not receive treatment within an appropriate time.
The new Emergency Waiting Times health app developed by the Data to Decisions (D2D) CRC will help South Australian patients get quicker medical attention while also reducing the burden on metropolitan emergency departments.
The health app combines data about a patient’s location, current emergency waiting times for all South Australian metropolitan hospitals and travel information from Google Maps to show the best treatment option according to wait and travel time.
Dennis Horton, innovation exchange lead at D2D CRC, believes the health app will become a go-to tool for any medical emergency.
“It will eventually guide the user to the most appropriate service. For example, someone with a minor cut may be able to access a nearby super clinic instead of an emergency department, which will reduce the burden on hospitals. If uptake is large enough, general medical advice could be directed to users as well.”
Mental health care goes digital
Another area set to benefit from new digital technologies is the treatment of chronic mental health disorders, which about 600,000 people live with in Australia. Many consider current methods of monitoring and treating chronic mental illnesses unsatisfactory.
A new mental health app launched by D2D CRC in collaboration with Flinders University called AI2 (Actionable Intime Insights) has the potential to greatly improve treatment response times by offering real-time digital updates on patient status to clinicians.
Horton says expensive mental health readmissions can be avoided with suitable out-of-hospital care, but most clinicians do not have the resources to keep track of every patient.
“AI2 offers an effective digital alternative to monitoring patients, delivering data in real time and reducing the burden of readmissions on the healthcare system,” he explains.
Patient information is linked from several sources, such as the Medicare Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data, and behavioural patterns are analysed over time using machine-learning algorithms.
Alerts can be triggered when patient medications or appointments aren’t on track, helping patients access care in the community when needed, preventing costly hospitalisations.
The AI2 project has been partly funded by the South Australia Department of State Development.
Spatial modelling to help COPD patients
New Zealanders have the highest rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among the 35 member states of the OECD.
A research project by the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) aims to understand how air quality affects COPD patients, ultimately helping them better manage the disease.
Using embedded sensors in physical infrastructure in cities in New Zealand and Sweden to collect environmental information, the project will develop predictive geospaital algorithms for the early indication of COPD symptoms from patients.
Along with the potential for rapid intervention through these predictive algorithms, the project will also develop new models combining real-time patient data about their symptoms and medication use with environmental data such as pollution levels, ambient temperature and humidity.
Big Data to illuminate national outcomes of cardiovascular care
More than 500,000 people are hospitalised each year in Australia for urgent and elective heart care, but there’s little analysis on what happens to them post-treatment.
In an Australian first, a team of cardiologists from the Central Adelaide Local Health Network have collaborated with D2D CRC to deliver a study using over 100 million healthcare records from more than 1000 hospitals. Named ORION, it stands for Observing Recurrent Incidence of adverse Outcomes following hospitalisations.
Horton says heart-related conditions are often very serious, complex and costly, yet little is known about the outcomes for patients once they leave hospital.
“We don’t know if they were readmitted, had complications or even if they survived following treatment,” he says. “With this study, we can assess patient outcomes, leading to improvements in hospital procedures and resources, and ultimately, improvements in patient care.”
The study investigates hospital care nationally for the five conditions that make up about 90% of all acute hospitalisations for cardiovascular disease: heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, atrial fibrillation and peripheral vascular disease.
Horton says the results of this project will have an immense impact on improving cardiac hospitalisation and procedures in Australia, while still protecting patient privacy and the security of their data.
“By applying Big Data analytic techniques, we have uncovered some very interesting facts such as how variable patient outcomes compare between hospitals. This suggests variation in care quality and processes at individual hospitals.”
This project is funded by the South Australia Department of State Development, University of Adelaide and the Hospital Research Foundation.