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Digital innovation funding focused on health outcomes

Tuesday, 26 May 2020  
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Picture: Spark Health chief executive Will Reedy editor Rebecca McBeth


Showing improved health outcomes from applying AI and machine learning in health is central to Spark Health’s Digital Innovation Programme 2020.


Spark Health chief executive Will Reedy says outcomes based digital innovation, where the impact of change is measured, is not always well done in New Zealand or internationally, making this programme of work particularly exciting.


The five successful projects focus on the theme of AI and Machine Learning. Each gets $30,000-$50,000 and will use cloud services from AWS.


Spark Health collaborated with the National Institute of Health Innovation to run the programme and NIHI will support the projects to provide evidence of improved health outcomes.


Reedy says a key problem in New Zealand healthcare is under investment in data and digital services.


“To deliver new and better healthcare services you need to upgrade and improve legacy systems and infrastructure, but you also need to do innovation in parallel to that,” he says.


The Spark Health Digital Innovation Programme is about funding some of these innovation streams, providing evidence that they improve health outcomes and sharing the findings nationwide.


“That's where it goes from being digital health to digital medicine because you've got evidence that the AI/ machine learning algorithm actually improves health care,” he says.


Reedy says the use of Amazon Web Services for cloud support means successful innovation can be rapidly scaled up for national application. The sleep study being funded at Auckland DHB is one project that could be delivered to all 20 DHBs if it shows positive health outcomes.


He says the health sector is always innovating by finding new and better ways to deliver treatment or diagnoses.


“We are bringing innovation focused on digital into the health sector to augment the innovation they already do,” he tells


Jon Herries, group manager emerging health technology at the Ministry of Health, was on the programme judging panel and says the health system often does innovative work that isn't widely recognised.


“The Ministry of Health sees the Spark Health Digital Innovation Programme as a high profile way to encourage more innovation,” he says.


“This innovation helps us attract and retain good people, as well as improving care and outcomes for New Zealanders.”


Chris Bullen, director of NIHI, says “as well as bringing a familiarity with grant application and assessment processes, NIHI’s role has been to ensure a strong link to evidence of health outcomes.”


Herries will join Reedy and Bullen on the live webinar to discuss the Digital Innovation Programme on Thursday 11 June at 12.30pm.


Register for free here.


The successful innovation projects are:


Ehsan Vaghefi, Toku Eyes - THEIA mobile diabetic retinopathy screening AI


Martin Paul Than, Canterbury District Health Board - Wayfind data drive clinical decision support pathways


Alesha Smith, Airmed Ltd - Predicting services required at emergency medical incidents


Randall Britten, Auckland District Health Board - Automated sleep study review using artificial intelligence


Ehsan Vaghefi, Toku Eyes - AI-enabled laser biometer


Each project winner will provide a video presentation you will be able to view via the

Digital Innovation Programme webinar channel in due course. Read more about the projects here.


If you would like to provide feedback on this news story, please contact the editor Rebecca McBeth.


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