The Digital Health CRC is delighted to introduce our first PhD student, David Lim, from Curtin University Western Australia.

Tell us a little about your life before you started your PhD

I was born in Singapore, but emigrated to Australia with my family in 2000.  I went to Wesley College here in Perth and I have always had an interest in health. I studied pharmacy when I left school, graduating from Curtin in 2010. Following my graduation I returned to Singapore to do two years of compulsory military service, where I served as a Medic in the Military Medicine Hospital. Then I returned to Australia and completed my pharmacist registration. I’ve worked as a pharmacist for more than six years now, initially in a hospital setting, and then as Pharmacist-in-charge at a community pharmacy in Perth.

While working in pharmacy, I completed a Master of Health Administration with Distinction, at Curtin, which also involved a research dissertation that collaborated with industry to investigate the barriers and enablers for people’s preferences for using a digital health administration mobile app. The app helped people by allowing them to automatically fill in the repetitive registration paperwork that was required by different medical facilities.

My research found that people generally lacked an understanding about the security of their personal data, and they were also put off by the time it took to register on an app. That’s something we need to address, as healthcare systems undergo a digital transformation. The research was published in PLOS ONE earlier this year.

What got you interested in digital health?

Even before I went back to study my master’s, I was really interested in reading about how other countries are looking at data mining and getting information out of existing data that can actually help the population.

After working for nearly eight years in pharmacy, I wanted to venture into a broader area of health. There were so many limitations on how I could have an impact on people’s lives. I began a Masters in Health Administration because I wanted to improve my ability to make an impact and when I did my research project under Professor Suzanne Robinson, which was in digital health, I realised there are so many opportunities to actually make improvements to the whole health care system, make real changes; and I realised, this is exactly what I was looking for.

I have a keen interest in data analytics, and learning how it can help us by providing key insights into current health care issues. My project is a really good example of this and I’m excited about the potential it will have.

What’s your thesis about?

I’m doing a doctorate in Public Health, and I will be looking at how we can use data analytics to identify people who show some early indications of chronic kidney disease. It’s a really serious disease, which affects about one in ten Australian adults, and nearly 90 per cent of cases are not diagnosed in the early stages. We really need to develop better tools to identify those people who have chronic kidney disease, and get some early intervention happening. It’s a very big problem in rural and remote areas too, where hospitalisation rates are about twice as high as in the cities.

There isn’t currently really good data to say, what is actually the burden or the prevalence and progression of the disease.

We are going to use some very large linked data-sets to build a state-wide patient registry to establish the current trajectory of people in Western Australia who have been affected by chronic kidney disease across WA since 2002, linking pathology results with hospital records so that we can find the clinical indicators associated with progression from early to advanced chronic kidney disease along with other diseases, or comorbidities. That will allow us to identify risk factors that indicate progression from early to advanced stage chronic kidney disease and give us a much better picture of the incidence of the disease.

What do you like to do when you’re not working or studying?

I like to exercise each day, catch up with friends and go to the movies. Sometimes we play badminton, which I played more seriously when I was at school. I also love to travel, which is something I can’t do at the moment unfortunately. I have travelled through Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, China .. also around Europe, I travelled in England and then from the UK I took the train through France and Italy.

We had a big family trip planned this year around Jordan and Israel but we have had to cancel, like everyone else at the moment.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

My aim now is to become an academic health policy and planning researcher. My dream career would be to develop, monitor and evaluate health services. This includes analysing large datasets to find out solutions for areas of need, providing evidence-based strategic advice for both external and internal stakeholders to improve outcomes for the population.