The future of digital health in Australia received a shot in the arm with the launch of the Flinders Digital Health Research Centre at the Tonsley precinct.
Co-directed by Flinders University's newly appointed Professors in Digital Health Systems, Professor Anthony Maeder and Professor Trish Williams, the Centre focusses on the use of computer-based technologies in the areas of Wellness and Ageing.
The Centre has a theme of "Health Smart Living" which encompasses the development of intelligent, assistive environments which contribute to supporting individuals to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Initial funding for this initiative was provided by the South Australian Government through the PRIF scheme, and by Cisco Systems Ltd.
By 2050, it is estimated that the proportion of people over the age of 80 will have risen from 3.9% to 9.1% of the population of OECD countries.
A large proportion of these people will need help to manage chronic illnesses such as dementia, heart disease, diabetes, limited physical movement and many others, as well as support with their daily living tasks. In this rapidly ageing society, a growing need exists for effective, affordable, scalable and safe in-home and in-residential care solutions.
Leveraging a range of current and emerging sensor, interaction and integration technologies to create a “health smart home” will reduce mundane human carer task demands and will drive down the costs of community care.
These living environments of the future will use a range of new information and communication technologies to maintain and increase autonomy of people. Hospitals and current health systems typically focus on acute episodes of illness and are not well equipped to provide adequately for daily living care support.
Similarly, there is a growing need to better support physically and mentally challenged individuals who are living within the community with disability or chronic disease, in terms of their long-term health care needs.
A major initiative in this area is the newly established ARC Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living, supported by a $3 million grant under the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Programme.
Led by Professor John Grundy at Victoria’s Deakin University, Flinders University digital health and aged care experts Professor Anthony Maeder, Professor Trish Williams, Professor David Powers, Professor Sue Gordon and Associate Professor Niranjan Bidargaddi will participate as chief investigators.
In addition to the ARC funds, the Hub will benefit from just over $2 million from its partner organisations as well as considerable in-kind contributions. The Hub will focus on the development of improved health information systems to enhance the mental, physical and social wellbeing of older people.
The international research team comprises experts in aged care services, software engineers, data analytics researchers, electrical engineers, health informatics researchers, human computer interface researchers, nutrition and exercise scientists, mental health and nursing researchers.
The realisation of the “digital enhanced living” concept in a person’s home or care facility requires this wide mix of expertise. “Healthy ageing is critical to the South Australian and national agendas,” said Professor Maeder.