AI driving a SMART future for public health

Australia’s first integrated public health and clinical data platform to help combat current and future healthcare challenges such as pandemics and natural disasters is being established by researchers from Flinders University.

“Healthcare has endured unprecedented challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic and diverse populations in Australia are now facing an impending healthcare crisis,” says Associate Professor Courtney Ryder, Discipline Lead for Injury Studies from the College of Medicine and Public Health.

“The incidence of chronic and complex conditions in Australia is rising rapidly, disease burden is costing the healthcare system billions annually, natural disasters caused by climate change are impacting the health of local communities, and equitable access to health remains a public health challenge

“Limited access to real-time, high-quality public health data is creating barriers against effective planning and management of healthcare and public health issues particularly in remote and rural regions,” she says.

Associate Professor Courtney Ryder

Led by Associate Professor Ryder, the research team will design and build SMART-PH (DigitiSing InforMAtion for PRacTice in Public Health) the first AI-driven public health platform to address emerging health priorities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the power of innovative AI to drive real-time public health data, improving the speed and reach of public health interventions to diverse populations in Australia, allowing agile responses by industry and the healthcare sector to ‘stop the spread’.

“We want to employ the same principles to construct a cohesive public health framework that unites relevant authorities, healthcare institutions, and laboratories to be more efficient, more agile and more effective.

“SMART-PH will function as a common digital infrastructure to eliminate data siloes and improve healthcare decision making by enabling real-time collaboration and communication of information.

“With diligent planning and meticulous implementation, SMART-PH could improve the quality, efficiency, equity, accessibility, and resilience of our health system,” she adds.

The team will create a Public Health ‘Data Lake’ (data repository), and then integrate the data with SA Health’s Digital Analytics Platform (DAP), an existing data infrastructure with real-time advanced data linkage capabilities to all clinical data such as electronic medical records.

The use of functional, analytical, and interactive AI techniques will be robustly assessed to develop AI-driven tools to address public health priorities.

These tools could help to improve forecasting, planning and strategic decision making, surveillance and outbreak detection to identify challenges and disruptions such as future pandemics.

The project ‘SMART-PH – Digitising Information for Practice in Public Health’ has been awarded funding of $2,999,842.28 from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) 2023 National Critical Research Infrastructure.

The MRFF aims to transform health and medical research and innovation to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.

The project will begin in July 2024 with creation, implementation and evaluation with key South Australian partners during 2027 to 2029.

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College of Medicine and Public Health FHMRI Injury Studies Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute