As Spring arrives across our vast country, we are entering the final week to the Voice Referendum. It has been gratifying to see strong support for a Yes vote from across Australia’s health and medical research community. Health is one area where there is confidence the proposed Voice will enhance government decision making to ultimately improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The DHCRC commenced an important project in the Northern Territory late last year which is looking to deploy digital tools to remote Indigenous communities to improve access to primary care. Through working with our Aboriginal colleagues on this project there has been a great deal of learning about the importance and need for listening when working with Aboriginal communities. When we listen carefully to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues we can learn a lot about how body, mind, spirit, culture and country fit together to integrate health and wellbeing.

On a personal note, I finally managed to take a long planned two-week holiday travelling from Broome to Darwin along the Kimberley coast. This area is among the most remote and pristine environments in the world. The geology, wilderness and wildlife are spectacular and tell a very different story to our heavily populated coastal communities. The long history and evidence of Aboriginal habitation and adaption to this harsh environment over millennia tells a story that all Australians need to hear.

Last month also included a trip to Canberra, and Parliament House, to meet a range of people including Members of Parliament from all political parties including Independents and those in policy and advisory roles. With significant investment in digital health technology in this year’s Budget, it is important that the impact of this digital health investment is well understood to support policy and legislative requirements. Digital Health and AI are cross portfolio responsibilities and with the release of the Discussion Paper – Supporting Responsible AI, by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources coordinating with the Department of Health and Aged Care is important.

The release of this AI Discussion Paper led a group of research, government, and industry leaders to convene a National AI in Healthcare Policy Workshop in August under the sponsorship of the Australian Alliance for AI in Healthcare (AAAiH), DHCRC and CSIRO to discuss the safe and responsible use of AI in healthcare. Without doubt AI will have a major impact on Health. We are already seeing this in practice across several of our DHCRC Research Projects. More on this on this Workshop is shared below.

An important role of the DHCRC is to improve the translation and implementation of our Research and Development program. Policy Advocacy and Thought Leadership are important tools to bring to this role and briefing policy makers is one way to reinforce awareness, engagement, and support for continuing digital health investment. Many of the challenges faced by the digital health sector from workforce capability through to interoperability will require a coordinated national approach. We will continue to advocate for a unified framework that supports the implementation and adoption of digital health initiatives across all parts of the Australian health system.

Finally, I am pleased to share some news about the future of the DHCRC. Over recent weeks we have begun to engage with our Core Participants (18) on plans to apply for an unfunded 18-month extension to the DHCRC. The DHCRC was originally established with a seven-year term which is due to expire on 30 June 2025. While this is still over 18 months away, we can already see that we will need additional time to realise the full benefits from our burgeoning project pipeline. Covid-19 presented many challenges and opportunities. A number of our research projects were delayed or cancelled, access to hospitals was limited, and research priorities were diverted. Equally, it demonstrated the undeniable need for, and benefit of, digital health. As I have said previously, we saw more than a decade worth of innovation in less than two years. The digital health landscape has changed dramatically, in many unforeseen ways since the establishment of the DHCRC. Given these changes, and the opportunities we see ahead, we have begun exploring the possibility of extending the term of our Commonwealth Agreement for a further 18 months beyond 30 June 2025. We believe we have a strong case to extend our current term as we look to maximise the impact and translation of our program of work, and we have received encouraging feedback from the Commonwealth in this regard. We will of course keep you, our partners, participants and supporters, updated as this application progresses.

In the meantime, thank you for your ongoing support and engagement. We feel very privileged to be working at the intersection of technology, healthcare and research to build a resilient and robust health system for the future.

Warm regards,
Annette Schmiede


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