Interim CEO Dr Michael Costello joined the Digital Health CRC last month, on loan from the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) where he is General Manager Architecture, Design and Strategy.

“I’m very pleased to be able to contribute to Digital Health CRC’s objectives to grow Australia’s digital health sector through industry driven, academically powered research and development,” he says.

Michael’s career history includes a range of roles in health and in private industry, from small strategic roles to large operational roles.

“My role at ADHA covered a wide range of areas, managing the policy, privacy and clinical terminology functions, liaising with Canberra, and being the privacy champion for the Digital Health Agency,” he says, adding that a key focus was making sure the legislatively-mandated privacy controls around My Health Record were effectively managed.

His team of 35 staff also managed the interoperability, mobile gateway and MHR future state programs, which included co-ordinating stakeholders across a range of health jurisdictions across federal, state and local governments, private industry, primary care, allied health and aged care.

Before ADHA, Michael spent three years as General Manager Strategy at Healthdirect Australia. “As a government-funded, not-for-profit entity supporting primary health care, Healthdirect has many things in common with the Digital Health CRC,” he says.

Both organisations focus on using technology to enhance health services, he says, adding that he was particularly proud of his role in delivering (and improving) the My Aged Care and Carer Gateways– something his own parents can benefit from.

From research to leadership

Michael’s parents are Irish immigrants, and he was raised in Campsie, in Sydney’s inner-west, the third of five children. Following high school, he did a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree at the University of NSW, and then took off to see the world..

“I decided I needed to expand my life experience, and spent three years travelling and living overseas,” he says.  He funded his backpacking adventures through stints of work in biotech in Amsterdam and the UK. “It was one of the best-paid jobs you could get as a backpacker, my mates were earning £2 an hour in a warehouse packing T-shirts,” he says.

Returning to Australia, he worked as a medical researcher  at the University of Sydney for a couple of years. “I was doing very interesting, fun science around protein crystallisation and X-ray diffraction, which led me to a PhD in protein chemistry and molecular medicine,” he recalls.

Michael’s doctoral work was through the Kolling Institute of Medical Research, based at Royal North Shore Hospital, where he met his wife, Susan, a nurse.

Michael loves sports, playing baseball, cricket and the beach as well as competitive soccer as a youngster, but these days most of his sporting activity is focused around the interests of his 16 year old son, Yeong, who loves skiing and the beach.

Michael admits that the ‘MAMILs’ have caught up with him– in other words, Michael is an enthusiastic cyclist, and has been riding for over 35 years

A keen amateur astronomer, he has a backyard telescope through which he has a clear view ­­– weather permitting – of our solar system including the rings of Saturn. “Recently we’ve been able to see all the moons of Jupiter, including Jupiters’ striations – and in mid-September, we will see Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky.”

After around a decade in medical research, Michael moved into consulting, working for Arthur Anderson and EY initially on business risk and cyber security. He then spent a decade in multiple roles with global systems integrator Dimension Data / NTT, working across financial services, mining resources and retail, and eventually running the strategic function of the complex and multi-faceted outsourced IT services for Woolworths.

Moving to PwC Australia, he was seconded to NSW Health in 2014 where he spent two years on the establishment key aspects of NSW eHealth’s function which resulted in the development of the state’s ten-year eHealth strategy at eHealth NSW, before moving across to HealthDirect Australia.

Engaging the consumer

“One key difference I noticed, moving from the commercial sector into health, is the lack of focus on engaging with the consumer,” he says.

The commercial sector puts consumers at the centre of every key operation, and Michael says that it’s a real paradigm shift to get people on the health sector frontlines to think in that way.

“In health, they talk about patients, but there’s very little focus on engaging a wider audience. In reality health consumers are not just today’s patients, they are everyone in the community.”

He adds that the concept of ‘patient’ versus ‘consumer’ raises a disempowerment dynamic familiar to many patients in the health system, and something he observed recently when his father suffered a stroke.

“It was interesting to see clinicians speaking in the very medical language they have been taught to use, about infarction and ischemic strokes rather than using terms that normal people can understand.”

He says that the health sector still struggles with the issue of how to engage with people, and that’s why focus on interoperability is so important in digital health research.

“In the commercial sector, there’s no angst about methods of engagement – Woolworths or ANZ or whoever don’t care if consumers engage using mobile apps, or a website, or a call centre or a bricks-and-mortar visit, as long as the service is delivered,” he says.

“The growth of virtual care gives health the opportunity to become much more agnostic about the methods in which it engages with people, delivering services in the way that people want them delivered, rather than disenfranchising many of the people it is meant to be servicing before they even get there.”

He says that digital health has a role to play in changing perspectives within the health sector. “Health is about the citizen, it is not about the process, though that’s what the sector often prioritises.”

The nirvana for healthcare, he says, is to make it convenient for everyone, without losing the high standards Australians currently enjoy. Ideally, our healthcare will be clinically safe, secure, world leading, and affordable.

“Digital health gives us the opportunity to do this.”



– by Fran Molloy