In a major boost to Australia’s digital health sector, the Federal Government has announced a $55 million cash injection to launch the new Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre and its R&D consortium of more than 60 technology companies, universities, health networks and research institutes.

Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation Zed Seselja announced the government’s investment through its CRC program to supercharge the Digital Health CRC’s efforts to grow businesses, create more than 1000 new jobs, forge new national and international partnerships, reduce waste in the health system and improve healthcare.

“The CRC brings together industry and research partners across Australia’s health and wellness landscape in a collaborative approach to advancing health and medical technologies and pharmaceutical industries,” Seselja said.

With the government’s funds, the Digital Health CRC will have more than $111 million in cash funding and $118 million in-kind contributions to invest over its seven-year life.

Commencing in July 2018, the centre will operate through collaborative research and development programs involving 40 commercial and government organisations operating across the health, aged care and disability sectors, as well as 24 companies, and 16 universities.

Telstra Health, Lorica Health, Genome.One and other established technology companies have joined the venture together with start-ups including eHealthier and Boundlss.

The centre also has the support of MTP Connect – the government’s medical technologies and pharmaceuticals industry growth centre – and the Australian Digital Health Agency.

[Read more: "Exciting" step towards proposed Digital Health CRC as consortium reaches Stage 2 shortlist for CRC funding]

The digital health market is expected to grow internationally at over 25 per cent a year to hit $379 billion by 2024, while healthcare expenditure has increased to 10 per cent of GDP. Harnessing the possibilities of the digital health revolution will create an economic boost while generating health care efficiencies and cost savings.

The team behind the ambitious, complex project are delighted at receiving the government’s green light.

“This has been a mammoth 16-month effort. As a former head of the CRC Advisory Panel once noted: ‘This is not easy money to get,’ but therein lies its strength, I think, in that applicants have to be able to demonstrate a very high degree of industry support around a core set of significant goals, and you have to be prepared to have this benchmarked against many other great partnerships and ideas,” CEO-designate David Jonas told Healthcare IT News Australia.

“I think we are also thrilled about this because, given half a chance, the Digital Health CRC will drive significantly improved health and wellness for Australians, as well as providing one of the world's best development and proving grounds for Australian technology innovation.”

The Digital Health CRC predicts that through its R&D program, which will be industry driven and academically powered, investments by government and partners will be returned fivefold.

Participating universities, which include Monash University, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney, University of South Australia, Curtin University and Macquarie University, will gain from links with industry partners, cost effective access to data, and support in the commercialisation of research products.

Despite the rewards, gathering such a high calibre collection of digital health powerhouses required “sheer dogged persistence,” Jonas said. “Plus great support from some of our university partners and champions that exist in the sector, generally. As with all large CRC bids, the process does follow the domino-theory in as much as increasing success tends to provide more confidence of others to join the battle.”

The battle, he predicts, will lead to transformative outcomes.

“We and our partners are intending that this is very transformative, and, dare I use the word, disruptive. We will be leveraging the huge investment that our partners and others are already putting into digital health initiatives and working on a national basis, and at scale, to drive these initiatives to greater heights as well as connecting these up.”

Jonas said the impacts the Digital Health CRC has modelled include: 

  • significant reduction in fraud, abuse, waste and errors in claiming

  • improved transparency for consumers/patients to enhance their direct fully informed involvement in their own health and wellbeing, including clear visibility of the quality and cost of providers

  • bolstered efforts at using advanced data analytics to provide enhanced clinical decision making

  • reduced cost and improved agility of health and medical research by breaking through the almost impenetrable hurdles to acquiring and joining up data

  • in collaboration with MTP Connect and incubators such as ANDHealth, improved support for small and early stage digital health technology/solutions companies, including university support, business mentoring and test-beds to enable them to trial and validate solutions and acquire their first 'reference sites'.

The Digital Health CRC will also launch education and training programs to develop a digitally competent health workforce, and via the embedding of PhDs and postdocs in industry will help to produce the next generation of health technologists.

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