Digital health projects traverse disciplines to address health inequalities

The use of high-tech health devices such as smart bracelets to combat sleep apnoea, chest straps to monitor heart rate and exercise trackers to boost workouts have seen massive growth in recent years. People can also interact with health care providers via video calls and receive text messages as reminders to take their medication. These devices and the ways we obtain our health information are known as digital health.

However, the integration of digital health care is still an issue in some populations. Monash University is on a mission to work directly and indirectly with these under-resourced communities to eliminate the causes of disparities.

Digital health traverses disciplines including information technology, clinical medicine, public health, computer science and others. Aligned with Monash University's vision for global impact, 'Network for Equity through Digital Health' (NEED) is an interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers from Monash University in Australia and Malaysia and relevant partners which aim to use digital health as a vehicle to address health and wellness inequalities.

President and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Monash University Malaysia, Professor Andrew Walker and Professor of Practice in Digital Health at Monash University in the Faculty of Information Technology, Professor Chris Bain are the co-founders of NEED. NEED will target less developed and underserved communities in Australia, Malaysia and the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asian regions which have low access to technology and digital literacy.

In this year's inaugural Monash University Malaysia NEED Grant Scheme 2021, the university approved funding for seven digital health strategic projects totalling to more than RM2 million. Successful applications were from the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, School of Information Technology and School of Pharmacy. Their projects will focus on research in the following areas: neurosciences and mental wellbeing; digitally-enabled care models of the future; improving health access and wellbeing of underserved populations; and cardiovascular health and wellbeing.

Despite a sizable number of deaf people, healthcare professionals are mostly unprepared to understand or serve the needs of these patients due to their lack of training in sign language. Associate Professor Uma Devi Palanisamy and her team are addressing the health communication needs of deaf sign language users with an app - Deaf In Touch Everywhere (DITETM). The app allows a deaf person to book sign language interpreters by appointment during their health consultation and communicate with them via video conferencing using smartphones.

The interdisciplinary team lead by Dr Karen Golden proposes to conduct a mixed-methods needs analysis to adapt existing Australian-UK digital health parenting interventions into an online platform. This platform will be optimised for use in Malaysia. It can facilitate future adaptations to foster youth mental health in marginalised populations and strengthen existing Australia-South-East Asia links with the Turner Institute.

Diabetes mellitus is a major non-communicable disease in Malaysia. Dr Chong Chun Wie and his team will be designing a program that enables remote consultation, self-monitoring, and real-time intervention to help alleviate the load off highly congested government healthcare facilities. The project will draw on scientists across different expertise within Monash University in Malaysia, Australia as well as industry partners such as Caring Pharmacy and Bionime (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd.

Professional burnout is one of the many causes of mental and physical health issues among healthcare workers. Professor Tin Tin Su and her team aim to determine the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary efficacy of a culturally sensitive and fully automated conversational agent (Chatbot), in delivering Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to nurses in Segamat district who self-identify as having symptoms of work-related stress and burnout.

There is a lack of information and documentation about the immunisation status of undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and the stateless population. Dr Yatinesh Kumari and her team of researchers will be focusing on the development of an accessible digital solution that will encourage immunisation uptake and support the large-scale data collection of immunisation records in the refugee population in Malaysia.

Another interdisciplinary team's research proposal was motivated by recent trends experienced among younger generation worldwide. Led by Associate Professor Anuja Dharmaratne from the School of Information Technology, the team will explore the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in analysing the behaviour of individuals. The team aims to assist psychotherapists and special needs teachers by recording long durations of behaviour monitoring exercise during treatment sessions and analysing them automatically.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder affecting about 65 million people around the globe. To date, there is no device that is drug-based nor non-invasive to prevent seizures. Dr Mohmad Farooq Shaikh and his team are proposing a device that will detect early seizures and prevent it from happening. The proposed project will combine health sciences, engineering, AI & machine learning along with formulation and material sciences for improving patient's quality of life.

These notable research projects are trying to improve our lives and the world we live in. All seven projects are due to be completed in 2023.

"Our Malaysia campus sits at the heart of Southeast Asia, and we hold strong relationships with many healthcare organisations and government agencies. This means we are well-placed to drive positive change in surrounding communities through innovation and leadership. The opportunities to influence through the multidisciplinary field of digital health research align closely with our strategic priorities. By investing in this area through NEED, we're able to bring our vision to life," Professor Walker stated.