Taking digital health to the tropics

3 minute read

Got a solution for ‘wicked’ rural health issues? Northern Australia will see you now.

Multi-industry collaboration is under way in Australia’s top end to find digital health solutions for persistent disease burdens.

Hospital and health services, researchers and the digital and technology industry have been brought together to co-design digital health solutions under the Northern Australian Regional Digital Health Collaborative (NARDHC), and the call is out for more participants.

Dr Salif Yusif (PhD) is project manager of NARDHC which is funded by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment and homed at James Cook University. He said they already had six projects seed funded and “showing promise”, including fusion of wearable and environmental sensors for elderly populations, and a mobile app for managing early-stage chronic kidney disease.

“Anyone who wants to partner is most welcome,” Dr Yusif told TMR.

“They can contribute in any capacity – not just a healthcare perspective but also from social [determinants] and other areas that contribute to a holistic understanding of all of the challenges that come with healthcare provision.”

The list of participants currently includes local hospital and health services, the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, primary care networks, the CSIRO and Optus.

Dr Yusif said around 55 participants had collaborated at three round tables since commencement in early 2022.

“We engage [the participants] extensively to understand what the problems are in delivering healthcare services in rural and remote communities in Australia. Then we investigate the role digital health could play in improving some of those situations,” he said.

Seed funding novel solutions and problem-solving roundtables are only two parts of what the collaboration aims to achieve. Formation of a regional industry advisory board, co-location of health and technical expertise enterprises and commercialisation support are also objectives, according to the NARDHC website.

Building digital health literacy in healthcare providers is also a key aim. It’s backed by a new micro-credential course delivered virtually by James Cook University which, Dr Yusif said, has almost 50 learners currently enrolled.

The Digital Health for Rural and Remote Health Workforce course uses multimedia content to enable healthcare staff to implement digital health solutions and manage them with cultural sensitivity, good governance and within the constraints of regional and remote locations.

Dr Yusif said the course could be used as part of change management process.

“Technology is changing the way people work. You need to train people, upskill them to transition into digital spaces.

“The course was designed for healthcare managers, doctors, frontline workers – all of them to be able to understand the transition into a digital working environment,” he said.

Dr Yusif said the NARDHC project was exciting because of the potential to solve immediate healthcare delivery challenges.

“Initial evaluations are indicating that our six current projects have the potential to increase access to healthcare services, in particular, in rural communities … and have the potential to be scaled up.”

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