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Building Australia’s First AI-Driven Public Health Platform

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Researchers from Flinders University are developing Australia’s first integrated public health and clinical data platform to address significant healthcare challenges, such as pandemics and natural disasters. This initiative is led by Associate Professor Courtney Ryder, the Discipline Lead for Injury Studies in the College of Medicine and Public Health.

Associate Professor Ryder highlights that since the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s healthcare system has faced unprecedented challenges, and the country is now on the brink of a healthcare crisis. The rapid rise in chronic and complex conditions, the high economic burden of disease, the health impacts of climate change-induced natural disasters, and ongoing issues with equitable healthcare access all contribute to this situation. A critical barrier to effective healthcare planning and management, especially in remote and rural areas, is the limited access to real-time, high-quality public health data.

To address these issues, the research team, under Ryder’s leadership, is designing and building SMART-PH (Digitising Information for Practice in Public Health), Australia’s first AI-driven public health platform. The platform aims to tackle emerging health priorities using innovative AI technology. The COVID-19 pandemic showcased how AI can enhance real-time public health data, thereby improving the speed and reach of interventions to diverse populations and enabling agile responses from the healthcare sector to control disease spread. SMART-PH seeks to employ these principles to establish a cohesive public health framework that unites relevant authorities, healthcare institutions, and laboratories, making the system more efficient, agile, and effective.

SMART-PH will serve as a common digital infrastructure to eliminate data silos and enhance healthcare decision-making through real-time collaboration and communication of information. This platform promises to improve the quality, efficiency, equity, accessibility, and resilience of Australia’s health system through diligent planning and meticulous implementation.

A key component of the project is the creation of a Public Health ‘Data Lake’, a comprehensive data repository. This Data Lake will be integrated with SA Health’s Digital Analytics Platform (DAP), an existing infrastructure that provides real-time advanced data linkage capabilities to all clinical data, including electronic medical records. This integration aims to streamline data management and enhance the analytical capabilities of the healthcare system.

The project will robustly assess the use of functional, analytical, and interactive AI techniques to develop AI-driven tools addressing public health priorities. These tools are expected to improve forecasting, planning, and strategic decision-making processes. They will also enhance surveillance and outbreak detection capabilities, helping to identify and address challenges such as future pandemics promptly.

The SMART-PH project has received funding of $2,999,842.28 from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) 2023 National Critical Research Infrastructure. The MRFF is dedicated to transforming health and medical research and innovation, with the goal of improving lives, boosting the economy, and contributing to the sustainability of the health system.

The project is set to begin in July 2024, with phases of creation, implementation, and evaluation planned to take place with key South Australian partners between 2027 and 2029. The anticipated outcomes of SMART-PH include a more integrated, responsive, and effective public health infrastructure capable of addressing current and future healthcare challenges with agility and precision.


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