A few months ago, Eluid Kipchoge was the first human to run a sub two-hour marathon. Like many contemporary ‘first human’ events, the feat was significantly aided by a handy dose of technology, combined with meticulous preparation and logistics.

His Nike code-named ‘alphaFLY’ shoes are credited with making his running several per cent more efficient, the course was specifically chosen to be flat without any 90 degree turns, and a laser guide was provided during the race to ensure the shortest possible distance was run. He was continuously surrounded by pacers (decreasing his wind resistance) while water and fuel was delivered to him by his support team.

We can all marvel at this amazing feat (a little context for you – he ran 100m in just over 17 seconds, 422 times!) – however, it again highlights that technology will continue to push the boundaries of what we come to expect as normal.

It will not be long before others will routinely run sub two-hour marathons and we can already see how additional technological enhancements will push things further. Body sensors and wearables will constantly feed data back about load and performance, automatically adjusting water and fuel intakes while simultaneously sending instructions to sensors and actuators in the runner’s shoes, making adjustments to airbags and plates to optimise efficiency.

You can see how data collected from runners during marathons, including information about the environment and weather, could become very valuable for improving performance when combined with different technologies either on the runner or external to them.

Our health system is definitely headed the same way.

Digital health will change things. It may take time and will be perilous along the way. However, as humans, we are driven to improve things and make things easier and more efficient. This is especially the case in health where it is very personal – we want to live longer and better lives, free of pain and in a state of relative wellness.

Technology can be used to do this and, when it is applied in a considered way, it will change the system and in many cases the lives of clinicians and patients.

Of course, I am not advocating jumping in at the technology-end in all cases, but just like Kipchoge and his team, we need to start by carefully preparing and understanding, in each case, the situation and the problem we are trying to solve. Using technology to replicate what already happens will rarely lead to the most optimal outcome.

In almost all cases, data is going to be integral to achieve such an outcome. I have seen lots of technologies which work in static mode – they seek to improve or make some function easier – and in each of those cases, the creators tell me, “if we had access to data…” or “when we have access to data…”, they will be able to make the technology more predictive, targeted and/or personal.

At a recent meeting I attended of the Board of the Australian Medical Council, one of the Directors asked a very relevant question in this respect: “All this relies on access to data, why will the public allow access to their data?” That requires a long answer, but perhaps the best and shortest answer right now is that, once people can clearly see what the benefit is in sharing their data, this will become easier. ‘Benefit’ needs to be tangibly articulated, along with a healthy dose of trust and control on behalf of the sharer.

Feats like Kipchoge’s leg trembling marathon pace show everyone that technology can and will change things. We just need to provide the right environment for it to happen.

The Digital Health CRC is a $230 million investment into digital health over 7 years. This will provide a definite ‘shot-in-the-arm’ in terms of accelerating technology adoption within a supportive environment, one that is evidence-based and considered.

We now have 10 projects in delivery mode, totalling around $6.5 million, with a developing pipeline of many more projects (some of which are considerably larger).

We will continue to push hard to generate momentum and, again, I encourage our participants to prioritise getting activities underway. We are ready and willing to work with you to move things forward.

We will soon launch our participant only portal on the website (I know I keep saying that…it is coming!!!) and all our participants will be able to see more detail as to what is developing. Details related to our projects in delivery mode will also be available on the public area of our website.

Shortly, I will be organising a meeting with our SME participants to get a better idea of how the Digital Health CRC can best engage with them. Each SME participant has different motivations for being in our CRC and I want to explore these and see what we can do together to deliver on these.

In addition, I am keen to understand how we can work better with start-ups in the digital health space. We are regularly approached by start-ups who want to understand what our CRC can offer them, or in some cases with specific requests.

I would like to see the Digital Health CRC play a supportive role in the digital health ecosystem and, with our broad participant base, I hope we can do this.

As always, if you have any ideas or feedback please contact me!

Dr Victor Pantano
CEO, Digital Health CRC
[email protected]