Researchers combat coronavirus through digital innovation
Researchers are using digital technology to provide timely, accurate coronavirus information to aged-care residents and to culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities in multiple languages across Western Australia (WA) to alleviate confusion, reduce outbreaks, prevent vulnerability and reduce hospitalisations.
Project lead – Professor Bruce Robinson, lung specialist from the Institute for Respiratory Health, said, “With the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) stating that some high-risk ethnic groups are 10 times more likely to die from the coronavirus than those born in Australia, our program couldn’t come at a better time.”
The collaborative research team includes a diverse network of 20 public health leaders in WA including the Institute for Respiratory Health, the University of Western Australia and Emyria (a digital-monitoring, drug development company).The program, has received more than $800,000 in funding from the Department of Health to develop the Early Digital Intervention Strategy for Coronavirus Therapy (EDICT).
Part of the EDICT project’s focus is to help CALD communities through improved communication both face-to-face and digitally. In addition to improving vaccination rates, the project hopes to improve the mental health and wellbeing of those who are isolated in quarantine.
Ayesha Shoukat, Project Manager for Multicultural Engagement at the Institute for Respiratory Health said, “One of the biggest challenges is that there is a lack of communications about the coronavirus for CALD communities with most of the public information provided by the Government being in English.
“This can be frustrating and confronting for someone that doesn’t understand English fully. Add to this the constant changes around policies and rules relating to the virus. Even people that speak English fluently are finding the changes confusing, so imagine how confronting it would be
if English isn’t your first language. CALD members are feeling lost and fearful.
“As we’ve seen from the ABS report and in Melbourne cultural miscommunication can lead to coronavirus outbreaks, low vaccination uptake and other dire outcomes.”
The researchers aim to improve communication through spiderweb networks engaging with key community leaders and companies within CALD communities, initially in the Afghan, Indonesian, Pakistani, Syrian, Sudanese and Vietnamese communities. Additionally, digital resources including informative coronavirus, language-relevant videos are being developed.
“Videos have proven to be more impactful than written materials and our research has shown that people tend to connect more through visual content. The videos will be produced in several languages, starting with Arabic, Indonesian and Urdu,” said Ayesha.
“We’ve also produced an informative website which is due to go live and a mobile app prototype that we know will be impactful but we need further funding to launch it.
“So far preliminary data indicates that EDICT will likely double the effectiveness of the current government strategy in engaging CALD communities about coronavirus.”
The EDICT project also aims to investigate the use of digital remote health monitoring with aged-care residents, chronic respiratory patients and those in hotel quarantine or isolation within the wider community.
“We’re going to use a platform called ‘Openly’ that participants can use on their smartphones. The platform will enable us to capture meaningful clinical data including a patient’s symptoms to try and detect the early onset of the coronavirus,” said Wayne Aston Program Manager of Digital Health at Emyria.
“If the possibility of infection is detected, the mobile app provides clear steps on how the patient can get the care they need no matter where they’re located.
“We can also measure vital signs such as heart rate using the smartphone camera and a highly validated algorithm developed by a company called Happitech. We’re going to be using it to help monitor respiratory patients initially.
“If the outcomes are positive, we plan to expand the digital health platform to provide higher quality clinical care to patients in remote settings.”
Professor Bruce Robinson said the use of digital innovation across both of these projects could prevent hundreds of hospitalisations, many deaths, improve the mental wellbeing of people in isolation and save the healthcare system up to $100 million.
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