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Technology to Tackle Chronic Disease

A new research project by the University of South Australia (UniSA) will help Australians tackle chronic disease, including diabetes, through harnessing the ability of digital technologies. Funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), the research will show whether technology – in the form of apps, wearables, social media and artificial intelligence – can modify and improve people’s sedentary behaviours, poor sleep patterns and food choices to create meaningful and lasting lifestyle changes in order to ward off chronic disease.

Chronic disease is the leading cause of illness, disability and death in Australia with about half of Australians having at least one of eight major conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, asthma, back pain, pulmonary disease and mental health conditions. Despite this prevalence, nearly 40% of chronic disease is preventable through modifiable lifestyle and diet factors.

The proposed research will assess the ability of digital technologies to improve health and wellbeing across a range of populations, health behaviours and outcomes, with a specific focus on how they can negate poor health outcomes associated with high-risk events such as school holidays or Christmas; where technology can better track activity among hospital inpatients, outpatients and home-patients; and how new artificial intelligence-driven virtual health assistants can boost health among high-risk groups, such as older adults.

Associate Professor Carol Maher, lead researcher at UniSA, says the research aims to deliver accessible and affordable health solutions for all Australians as well as bridge the gap between academic rigour and commercial offerings to ensure widespread access to health support.

“Research plays an important role in helping understand the products that are most effective, which will see us working with existing commercial technologies and applying and testing them in a new way, as well as developing bespoke software for specific, unmet needs,” said Assoc/Prof Maher.

“The great advantage of technology-delivered programs is that with careful design, once they are developed and evaluated, they can be delivered very affordably and on a massive scale… If we are to make any change in the prevalence of chronic disease in Australia, we must plan to do it en masse.”