New centre to bridge divide between tech and patients, as COVID accelerates digital health uptake

The Centre for Digital Transformation of Health will develop rigorously tested pathways for digital innovations, similar to the clinical trials process for drug approvals. Image: iStock

The COVID-19 pandemic has lent new urgency to the need for a digitally enabled health system, says the head of a new University of Melbourne partnership to tackle the gap between technology and health.

University of Melbourne Professor Wendy Chapman, Director of the new Centre for Digital Transformation of Health – which is being launched on Thursday – said the Centre will develop rigorously tested pathways for digital innovations, similar to the clinical trials process for drug approvals.

“The pandemic has accelerated the move to telehealth and virtual care, and tools such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things are central to this,” Professor Chapman said.

“But we’re a long way from being able to integrate these tools and data into the way health providers work with patients. The technology is there – we use it on our phones every day – but the systems for coordinating care are missing.”

Royal Melbourne Hospital Chief Executive Christine Kilpatrick said the Centre was a welcome addition to the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct.

“Most data collected by hospitals is unused because integrating it into patient care requires new systems and processes,” Professor Kilpatrick said.

“I’m looking forward to partnering with the Centre to make strides in integrating data and implementing technology in ways that will deliver substantial benefits to health consumers.”

University of Melbourne Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jim McCluskey said the Centre, as the University’s gateway to digital health, would bring together the right people to collaborate on solutions to contemporary problems. 

“It’s very difficult for health providers and industry to bring together patients, clinicians and informatics experts to co-design digital solutions that make a difference in real-world conditions,” Professor McCluskey said. 

“We’re bridging that gap, as well as training the future workforce to thrive in and lead the redesign of our healthcare system. The University of Melbourne has growing expertise in this area, from the development of the CovidCare app, to involvement by many of our researchers in clinical trials of new technology and systems to safely deliver care during COVID-19.”

The Centre is a partnership between the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, and the School of Computing and Information Systems in the Melbourne School of Engineering. 

It will bring together a world-class multidisciplinary team to create the Digital Health Validitron, a simulated digital and physical health environment that encompasses the complete range of clinical settings—from patient homes to acute and primary care—so that digital health innovations can be built, implemented, tested, adapted, and clinically validated for broad adoption.

The Centre launch on Thursday 19 November will feature speakers Mary Foley, Telstra Health Managing Director; Christine Kilpatrick, Royal Melbourne Hospital CEO; Rinaldo Bellomo, Director of the DARE Centre at Austin Health and the University of Melbourne; Melissa Skilbeck, Deputy Secretary of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Anna Peatt, DHHS Chief Officer Medicine and Poisons Regulation.

For more information, tune into the Centre’s podcast, Driving Digital Health