Opening remarks at the International Digital Health Symposium

Thank you, Auntie Milly, for your moving words in honouring this sacred land on which we gather today. I’d like to acknowledge The Hon Michael Keenan MP, the Australian Minister for Human Services; Minister Shri Jagat Prakash Nadda, the Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare; Jim Burch, Chair, Australian Digital Health Agency; Professor Robyn Norton, Co-founder and Principal Director of the George Institute for Global Health; and senior international delegations from many of the countries leading digital health research and policy around the world.

I thank The George Institute and the Australian Digital Health Agency for the opportunity to co-host the first International Digital Health Symposium together.

In many ways this is a natural partnership. The symposium’s objectives match UNSW’s commitment to developing new ideas, sharing knowledge and debating research outcomes on an Australian and global level. We work closely with industry, government, non-government organisations and other quality partners.

For UNSW Sydney, we are focused on our 2025 Strategy, which is anchored in academic excellence, social engagement and global impact.

The subject of digital health demands the confluence of these values, in order to improve lives through the provision of accessible, well-governed, quality healthcare.

Knowledge exchange for social progress and leading the debate on grand challenges are central to UNSW’s philosophy. And as we, here, in the room understand, digital health is an opportunity, but it is also a challenge.

We’ve had to get doctors and engineers to talk to each other; machines and systems to talk to one another; and then once we get that communication happening, perhaps our biggest challenge arises – making sense of the resulting big data.

But, like anything else in Australia – if there is a resource, we can mine it.

We are very proud of the fact that Scientia Professor, Michelle Simmons, has led ground-breaking quantum computation technology, which could see major breakthroughs in data mining for health outcomes.

We are equally proud that Professor Simmons’ achievements were highlighted to the nation just recently when she was named Australian of the Year.

The more the spotlight is trained on the value of science in our society, the more understanding there will be of just how much we rely on the work of researchers and innovators to drive advances – in the economy, in living standards and, of course, in healthcare.

We’re proud of the UNSW values which promote the ideal of working for the greater good. Universities are, after all, servants of the local, regional and global community. At UNSW, we have created a number of renowned institutes and centres that contribute to research excellence in some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Today I want to highlight one of them – the Centre for Big Data Research in Health which was founded by Professor Louisa Jorm, whom you’ll hear from in the first panel session.

The Centre was the first in Australia dedicated to health research using big data which is about to become the driving force in health and healthcare. The centre has produced some fascinating, fundamental and impactful work.

Its study of 60,000 women who had received IVF treatment in Australia and New Zealand, for example, resulted in better estimates of the likelihood of success to help guide patient choices.

While a study of 40,000 Aboriginal children found they were more likely to go to hospital with serious burns, but less likely to be treated.

The power of data is that it helps us create evidence that could ultimately inform a policy for better, more targeted and more effective healthcare services.

We are fortunate to have a number of experts here today to give us their insights and I am sure you are keen to hear from them.

So, I will say ‘welcome’ to UNSW Sydney and to this Inaugural Digital Health Symposium. I hope you enjoy an enriching and informed debate on one of the most important topics that will shape the future of health and wellbeing globally.

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