The government is backing a Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) which will invest more than $200 million to develop and test digital health solutions.
The CRC, which launched today, brings together 40 commercial and government organisations operating across the health, aged care and disability sectors, 24 established and start-up technology, advisory and investment companies, and 16 Australian universities.
Together they will work on a number of research priorities including tackling adverse drug reactions, mining knowledge from health data, improving the value of care and empowering consumers.
The Federal Government will invest $55 million from its CRC fund. Overall, the Digital Health CRC will have at least $111 million in cash funding, and $118 million in-kind funding to invest over its seven-year life.
The CRC’s launch comes at crunch time for the national health system. A child born today will, on average, live to 83.
“But our longer lives bring with them a greater risk of chronic and degenerative diseases which are difficult and expensive to manage and treat. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are on the rise. The health system can’t keep up,” said the CRC’s bid manager Elizabeth Foley.
With Australia’s annual health expenditure passing $170 billion – more than 10 per cent of GDP and rising – “the system is splitting at the seams,” she said.
The CRC member organisations will develop and test digital health solutions that work for “real patients in real hospitals and health services”, and equip Australians to better manage their own health and wellness. The centre seeks to create a "new digital workforce" and build the capacity of clinicians and consumers to become digital health natives, it said.
A specific research focus of the CRC is around reducing adverse drug reactions, which are responsible for more than 400,000 GP visits a year, and for 30 per cent of elderly emergency admissions.
“The cost is over $1.2 billion in Australia alone. We believe that half the cost is avoidable,” explained researcher Libby Roughead from the University of South Australia.
The CRC will develop, source and validate, apps and wearable technology that encourage patients to take the right medicine at the right time, and let their carers know about problems. It will also develop better ways to share information about adverse reactions with patients, health professionals, industry and regulators as well as design better ‘decision support apps’ for clinicians and for clinical trial managers.
As well as the societal health benefits, there are economic gains too, explained the CRC’s CEO-designate, David Jonas.
“Timing is everything. 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. If we wait a few years, the term ‘Digital Health’ will be synonymous with health, and Australian industry will have missed the boat,” he said.
The CRC forecasts it will create at least 1000 jobs and that Government and partner investments will be returned five times over.
The centre says its work will save the Australian health system $1.8 billion.
Industry partners – which include Telstra Health, Alcidion, Genome.One, Infoxchange, Amgen and Adventist HealthCare – will have their research dollars matched by Federal Government funding and be able to access research findings from across the CRC program.
Participating universities – the University of Sydney, QUT, UTS, Curtin University, RMIT, Monash University, Swinburne University of Technology and Macquarie University among them – benefit from forging industry links, gaining expertise to commercialise their research, and the ability to give students real-world experience.
“Industry is looking for digital solutions to be developed and validated through provision of access to ‘test-beds’ and for pathways to market. We will meet these objectives by working with our university and industry partners and by supporting and expanding the already nascent eco-system. We are confident that through our existing and planned international partnerships we will take Australian innovation into a global marketplace,” Jonas said.
Associate Professor Federico Girosi from the University of Western Sydney and chief scientist of the Digital Health CRC said it created a “unique opportunity to explore more integrated models of care and to overcome the fragmentation problems characteristic of our health care system”.
“It will also allow our PhD students to enjoy unique advantages, including invaluable access to the expertise and real-world challenges of our partners – we’re producing the next generation of data scientists for the future of our industry,” he said.
The Digital Health CRC is one of a number of CRCs launched this week. Others include the $133 million Fight Food Waste CRC and the $90 million Future Fuels CRC.