Digital health leaders explore new worlds at inaugural symposium

Digital health experts have gathered at UNSW to discuss the future of healthcare technology and the use of big data in health systems around the world at the first International Digital Health Symposium.


Professor Claire Jackson, University of Queensland; Professor Louisa Jorm, UNSW Centre for Big Data Research in Health; Dr Ramesh Krishnamurthy, World Health Organisation; Dr Bastian Seidel, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners; Professor Christine Bennett AO, University of Notre Dame Australia. Photo: Peter Secheny

Digital health leaders from around the globe have met at UNSW Sydney for the inaugural International Digital Health Symposium to learn from different global approaches to digital innovation that are inclusive, evidence-based, and support sustainable, high-quality health and care.

The leaders discussed the global advancement of digital health policy, how digital health can support clinical quality and safety, challenges in healthcare interoperability, data sharing for health systems improvement and building the evidence base for digital health benefits. The management of global public health priorities, new approaches to disease prevention, and maximising the benefits of precision medicine were also discussed.

Australian Digital Health Agency CEO Tim Kelsey said that Australia and its international partners can learn from each other and share information about what has worked in their health settings to support best use of digital technology in modern healthcare.

“We are privileged to learn from our Australian and international visitors leaders in digital health innovation. The symposium is an opportunity for collaboration in the ever-evolving sphere of digital health and will help us to solve our own challenges and contribute to the advancement of health and care for the world’s citizens,” Mr Kelsey said.


UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs at the 2018 International Digital Health Symposium. Photo: Peter Secheny

The symposium was hosted by the Digital Health Agency, The George Institute for Global Health and UNSW, attracting leaders from 13 countries together with colleagues from Hong Kong SAR, the World Health Organisation (WHO), industry, universities and clinical medicine.

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said the symposium’s objectives matched UNSW’s commitment to developing new ideas, sharing knowledge and debating research outcomes on an Australian and global level.

“UNSW places healthcare of Australians as a top priority and we look forward to continuing to support and contribute to the research, analysis, and advocacy of digital technology that will lead to better ways to help consumers and providers improve healthcare outcomes,” Professor Jacobs said.

The George Institute for Global Health Principal Director and Co-Founder Professor Robyn Norton AO said the symposium was a landmark event in support of its mission to develop practical solutions to improve global population health.

“The 21st century offers incredible opportunities to transform healthcare through technology and data. By bringing together government, academics, and industry, this symposium will help strengthen health systems and improve the lives of billions of people,” Professor Norton said.

The importance of building the capabilities to use large volumes of big data effectively was a key message from Professor Louisa Jorm, Director of UNSW's Centre for Big Data Research in Health, who emphasised the need for a more substantial workforce that could productively use data to answer questions about the health system.


Michael Keenan, the Human Services Minister and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation, at the 2018 International Digital Health Symposium. Photo: Peter Secheny

"It requires investment and a real effort to train data scientists to understand health and data in that context. UNSW's Centre for Big Data is the only the only research centre in Australia that has a specific focus on data and analytics, reductive use of data and training teams to use the mountains of big data we have available to us. The symposium is the first of its kind to bring together researchers and industry from many sectors but also to develop models to improve digital health," said Professor Jorm.

Michael Keenan, the Human Services Minister and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation, said the digital health ambition in Australia was to give people the choice, control and transparency over their personal healthcare data.

“Most of all Australians want better access to mobile digital health services, and they want their health information to be confidential and secure. A key priority is to increase information sharing between general practices, pharmacies, private and public hospitals, specialists and allied health professionals,” Minister Keenan said.