The future of: digital health & aged care

Digital health innovations integrated into the health service delivery systems to support diagnosis, treatment & surgery

“The Future Of…” series asks a variety of UOW experts and researchers the same five questions, to provide insight into the potential future states of our lives, communities and world.

The future of digital health and digital aged care will see many exciting digital health innovations be seamlessly integrated into the health service delivery systems to support diagnosis, treatment and surgery for patients. Mobile health, telehealth and telenursing services will extend the reach of healthcare to the consumers at home to enable truly person-centred care outside the hospital. We will see integrated sensors, robotics and consumer electronics in smart homes that enable older people, even with chronic diseases, to live independently at home longer whist also being able to access healthcare services whenever needs arise.

Associate Professor Ping Yu is the Director of the Centre for IT-enabled Transformation in the School of Computing and Information Technology. She also leads the Group of Digital Health and Digital Aged Care in Smart Infrastructure Facility at UOW. Ping is (pictured above left with Professor Wilf Yeo (Associate Dean, School of Medicine) and David Reid (Director of Drug and Alcohol Service, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District)

Her research is driven by the curiosity of understanding the complex health service delivery systems to design and implement intelligent digital solutions to improve system quality, safety and efficiency in health and aged care.

What are you researching or working on in 2019?

In 2019, we will continue to collaborate closely with the health administrators, doctors and nurses in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) on clinical research to address health challenges using health data analytics. These include:

  • Investigating the impact of practice changes on quality and efficiency of Emergency Services at Wollongong Hospital informed by health data analytics. There are two practices that are currently evaluated: (1) the implementation of the pre-hospital phlebotomy protocol for patients transported by Ambulance Service, and (2) the impact of the troponin test on a patient at Wollongong Hospital.
  • Conduct an IHMRT Clinical Translation Grant supported project with Senior Consultant Dr Natalie Smith and other colleagues at UOW - "Pilot trial: Can a mobile health coaching program improve fitness for surgery in patients with obesity?"
  • After successfully acquiring ethics clearance for the research team to access the data in the local health data network CRISP, we will continue the already well established research to further investigate the impact of using a computerised check list and clinical guidelines for patients with alcohol in ISLHD. This project was initially supported by Global Challenges and IHMRI. We have published a peer-refereed paper in a Q1 journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
  • Leading several PhD projects, such as:
    • An Ontology to represent Dementia and Dementia care knowledge in computer readable format,
    • Patients’ acceptance of using mobile phone to manage chronic diseases, and use patient portal to access hospital information.

What are some of the most innovative or exciting things expected to emerge from your field of expertise over the next few years?

As many people know, the Aged Care accreditation System is being overhauled and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is underway. We have completed research on text data mining of 5,560 Aged care accreditation reports published from 2011 to 2018 . For the first time, this study has enabled us to understand how aged care accreditation has been conducted in residential aged care homes in Australia from 2011 to 2018. Our study will provide first-hand evidence about the pitfalls of aged care accreditation and the areas needing reform.

Currently we are in the process of revising the manuscript for submission to a journal. Once the paper is published, this is the only comprehensive, rigorous research on this focus topic for the Royal Commission investigation. We will release our findings to the media, as well as submit our findings about the quality of aged care accreditation to the Royal Commission to potentially influence policy.

Another exciting project is the implementation of the first mobile patient coach program. It will be ready for handover to patients who are on the waiting list for obesity surgery. To date, our solution is the only approach to support this at-risk population group enabling them to prepare themselves for surgery.

Over time, our findings on the impact of the hospital practice change will generate evidence to inform the decision makers to change practice in the ISLHD.

What are some of the things readers should be wary of over the next few years?

There are many social media and digital platforms that publish health information for the consumer, such as how to eat and exercise to lose weight. I would suggest that people be careful to watch the credibility of these platforms and the quality of the information.

More mobile health monitoring and health coach programs will be available to the general public through various platforms and apps, again, be careful to review the source of the application. Make sure your personal information is properly protected and your privacy is ensured.

The recent incidence of Ethiopian flight crash teaches us to exercise precaution when introducing digital technology into life critical area, such as health and healthcare. Technology can and should only be used to enable humans to perform better, but never ever fully take over human decision and action.

Where do opportunities lie for people thinking about a career in this field?

In our world with an increasing reliance on technology and data, fields that focus on technology within the health field will be needed. Health information managers and health informaticians in healthcare organisations, government health departments, insurance companies, aged care organisations and health IT companies are certainly growth employment areas in my opinion.

Within academia, positions in the field of biomedical and health informatics, and biomedical engineering provide exciting opportunities.

What’s the best piece of advice you can offer our readers based on your expertise?

Aim big. Put ideas into action step by step. Be persistent and never ever give up, you'll eventually get there.

 ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PING YU: For more from Associate Professor Ping Yu you can visit her UOW Scholars profile, which links to her papers and publications.