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By Naomi Stekelenburg 10 March 2023 3 min read

Have you ever wondered what your healthcare will look like in the future?

And by 'future' we don’t just mean in 30 or 40 years. We mean a future as early as a few years away.

Our Australian e-Health Research Centre (AEHRC) recently held its annual research colloquium. Digital health scientists and industry partners from around the country hit the podium to reveal some of the big-ticket items for digital health.

And while much of the research presented is still in its early stages, you can expect to see some of the work implemented into health systems earlier than you might think.

Let me talk to ‘em

Some of the most life-changing research that came out of the colloquium involved a big word that doesn’t sound particularly transformative: interoperability.

One of the biggest burdens faced by clinicians and patients in a digital health system is the exchange of information. Or put more simply, the fact that different online information cannot talk to each other.

Imagine a world where forms can pre-populate so there's no need to fill out your details (again). Or where your doctor can easily access your medical record so they know what medications you're on.

Interoperability is the key, and it's being made possible by the work of scientists at AEHRC.

Enter Sean Fong, ex-vacation student at CSIRO and now research scientist. Sean is working on SMART apps that use a standard called FHIR (or “Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources”) to allow health information to be shared securely and seamlessly. This sharing of data means more time for consultations and less work for patients and their healthcare professionals.

The path of least resistance

Another big topic on everyone’s lips at the moment is anti-microbial resistance (or AMR).

And so it should be.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest threats facing humanity. Bacteria and other microbes are acquiring and developing increased resistance to the drugs designed to kill them. This growing resistance is largely due to our overuse and misuse of antimicrobials, such as antibiotics, in human and animal medicine.

Dr Teresa Wozniak and her team are making headway into combatting antimicrobial resistance through their platform HotSpots, another tool that facilitates the sharing of medical information.

HotSpots is a digital surveillance program that helps doctors choose the 'right drugs for the right bugs'. The platform allows doctors, nurses and Aboriginal health practitioners across regional Australia to access up-to-date information about antibiotic resistant clusters. Teresa told the colloquium audience that to date, the impact of Hotspots has been the integration of data into other data surveillance systems, the development of treatment guidelines, as well as training on antimicrobial resistance for a First Nations workforce.

Lean, mean future healthcare machines

On another front, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning could one day help clinicians diagnose and treat patients. Dr Denis Bauer’s team took us on a tour of the wonders of precision medicine. Dr Letitia Sng revealed ground-breaking research into using genomics and machine learning to identify people at risk of coronary artery disease, and Denis showed off technology to help identify disease mutations.

A picture tells a thousand words

Dr Aaron Nicolson told us about his research teaching machines how to support radiologists by diagnosing X-rays.

More from the AI and imaging front came from Dr Filip Rusak. He presented his research, which is already being used by clinicians, using AI to develop a world-first benchmark for measuring brain atrophy – or thinning – in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

So, from interoperability to genetics to AI, the colloquium set the agenda for healthcare that’s accessible, timely and effective. Not one of the 400 attendees left without at least some hope for a healthier future.

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