Australia has always been at the forefront of modern healthcare innovation and research. CSL, Cochlear and many others have paved the way not only for Australian healthcare organisations but organisations all over the world, to the extent that they now sport multi-billion dollar deals with governments and investors alike.
However, there are always new frontiers in healthcare, one of which is complex tech. While technology has admittedly been around for a long time, the research – and funding – that health technology development requires has finally caught up with the market. We’re seeing AI in more medical arenas, in-home automated support is a new possibility, and surgery can be less hands-on and more robot-arms-on than ever. Given this is such an interesting area, Ausmed has done some digging to keep you up to date on the latest innovations in Australian healthcare and to see if any might be a good fit for your organisation.
So what are some of the most interesting things being developed in Aussie med-tech? Think AI, 3D-printed organs and massive – yes, massive – databases.
AI: Remote-controls and diagnostic robots (kind of)
AI is undergoing massive growth, and not only in healthcare: online banking, mobile navigation and virtual assistants are all hinged upon constantly-developing AI technology. However, when it comes to AI in healthcare, there seem to be just as many opportunities for innovation as all the other areas combined.
While smaller health-oriented AI startups could be put off by the funding required to get off the ground, this doesn’t seem to stem the growth of Australia’s crowd of ground-level innovators. For example, Endogene has delved into the world of AI by developing their patented ‘Parascope’, a self-advancing endoscope that removes the risk of pushing an endoscope through the patient’s bowels (Endogene, 2019). Instead, the Parascope can be controlled remotely to navigate the entire gastrointestinal tract (Endogene, 2019). If you’re interested, read more here: Endogene’s Parascope.
One of the larger leading Australian healthcare AI companies is harrison.ai: this organisation is a clinician-led development firm that transforms medical insights into new AI software that makes it easier to provide great care to more people (harrison.ai, 2019). For example, one of their biggest projects has been ‘annalise.ai’ – a diagnostic imaging tool built in 2019 that helps radiologists detect inconsistencies and diseases in patients (harrison.ai, 2019). Founded in Sydney, the company’s intimate knowledge of clinician workflows has given them an edge when figuring out what needs AI and how it can be implemented (harrison.ai, 2019). Find out more here: Introducing annalise.ai Diagnostic imaging AI.
We’ve isolated surgery as it’s own area in this collection because it’s such a fertile soil for innovation: it’s instrument-based, patient-facing and incredibly complex. In short: it’s exactly what would attract Australia’s next med-tech geniuses!
So what’s happening in the world of surgical technology? Virtual reality is taking up a larger portion of training than ever before: in an incredible step forward, Professor Shafi Ahmed removed bowel cancer from a patient at the Royal London Hospital while livestreaming to the public (Davis, 2016). Though largely novel at the moment, these sorts of broadcasts could become an integral vehicle for the transfer of knowledge and skills in an area of healthcare that has incredibly high stakes and a very slim margin for error. How long until we see this sort of thing in Australia? Unfortunately, it’s likely to be a while. Governance bodies must analyse and interrogate the ethical implications of the new tech as well as the possible health benefits to the potential patients that will be involved. While Australia waits, read more about Professor Ahmed’s amazing feat here: Cutting-edge theatre: world’s first virtual reality operation goes live.
Another great new element of Australia’s surgery landscape is Bioprinting – AKA the 3D-printing of human organs. The University of Western Australia’s ‘VascLab’ bioprints 3D organs for cardiovascular implants (EMS Marketing Team, 2020). In short, various hydrogel blends, called bioinks, are used to “provide structural integrity to the organs and tissue, making them compatible with the human body.” (EMS Marketing Team, 2020) This is a huge collaborative effort with experts aiming to bring this technology to hospitals all around Australia (EMS Marketing Team, 2020). Read more about this amazing technology here: Bioprinting.
Info-tech: The world’s largest health information exchange
In a massive step forward, Orion Health – an organisation that specialises in health data and information accessibility – has started to build the world’s largest health information exchange (Orion Health, 2022). This exchange will harvest information from over 5,000 governmental and private healthcare services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the purpose of itemising each consenting individual’s health information: it will be a one-stop-health-information-shop for over 32 million people (Orion Health, 2022). Ultimately, this will help clinicians make informed decisions based upon their patients' entire medical reality rather than just snippets.
This information exchange will work similarly to Australia’s My Health Record, but – based on the initial briefing documents – Orion Health plans to make the Saudi Arabian information exchange a much more person-centred and autonomous system than any we’ve seen before (Orion Health, 2022).
Reading about people inventing new ways to save and improve lives can be an incredible experience, but one that ends when you close the tab. At Ausmed, we believe that the more you know, the greater care you can provide – and this doesn’t just apply to patient-facing healthcare practitioners. On the administrative and developmental side of health services, countless opportunities arise on a daily, weekly and monthly basis that you and your peers could use to further your organisation. But to grasp those opportunities, you have to be able to see what’s applicable to you.
So, when you read about scientists at the University of Western Australia Bioprinting hearts for surgical use, you could consider: does my friend who runs the cardiovascular surgical unit know about this? Maybe one of the doctors supervising that lab used to work at your organisation: could they come and give a lecture to your staff of all levels?
Or when you read about massive health information exchanges, are you reflecting on whether your organisation is using a functional health exchange?
In short: let yourself be inspired. There’s always room to grow, and maybe you can use these sorts of technologies in your organisation at some point!