UTS set to shine in digital health and analytics

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) is gearing up for the first intake of students in its new Bachelor of Health Science degree, which includes what is thought to be Australia's first major in digital health and analytics.

Offered for the first time at UTS in 2016, the degree seeks to combine an understanding of the humanistic side of healthcare with science through the use of data and technology. It will also offer majors in pharmacology and global health.

The course as a whole will have an emphasis on understanding data and where it comes from – including a subject called Arguments, Evidence and Intuition, which aims to teach critical thinking about data and its sources – as well as foundational knowledge of health information management, health informatics and how to use and apply ICT to help solve problems and improve health and healthcare delivery.

And while digital health is about far more than how to design a cool health app, it will be tailored to real-life requirements with a professional placement undertaken in the third year.

The driving force behind the new major is Jen Bichel-Findlay, deputy director of UTS's Centre for Health Services Management and its director of studies. Dr Bichel-Findlay said there is a large and growing demand for graduates skilled in the emerging field of digital health and health informatics.

“We’ll definitely be looking at social media and health, because that's an area that health really has been slow to embrace, as well as bring your own devices, as well as apps, as well as personalised medicine and what can we do with all the data that people are collecting in the quantified self movement,” Dr Bichel-Findlay said.

“But they will also do a subject called Data Science in Healthcare that will introduce them to the basic concepts of data and an absolutely fabulous subject that we’re hoping all undergraduate courses will require in the future and that’s called Arguments, Evidence and Intuition.

“You have data, but data doesn’t always tell you the right thing. You have to be able to go beyond the data and try to figure out if it’s telling you the right thing, or is it telling you a range of things.

“It uses unique ways of teaching to get people to not just read a newspaper article about a study and think, 'oh goodness, I have to stop eating meat because it’s bad'. We want them to start asking questions about how the study is done and what is it actually telling you.”

All students will receive a foundation in basic health subjects such as public health, primary healthcare, epidemiology, healthcare communication and indigenous health. Those doing the digital health and analytics major will also look at the foundations of health information management, which will cover what health information is, the different coding systems, the importance of records in healthcare and privacy.

Then in the third year, they will take two digital health subjects and two analytics subjects, Dr Bichel-Findlay said.

“With digital health, we will talk about health informatics and how different countries are approaching the move to digital,” she said. “The second subject is called Design and Evaluation in Digital Health and that will look primarily at how information systems are set up, how you design them and that will include social media and apps as well.

“On the analytics side, they have an introductory subject that’s called Health Analytics and that will expose them to the different ways they can manipulate data and analyse it and bring in big data methodology. And then the second subject is advanced and we’re hoping to procure some big data repositories that we can get the students to work on.”

She hopes students will also have access to the new UTS Data Arena that opened on the Broadway campus this year. Co-designed by feature film visual effects and animation expert Ben Simons, the facility provides a 3D sensory immersion in and visualisation of big data, turning numbers into pictures.

“It’s already proven to be so useful in terms of seeing things in data that you wouldn’t see if you just had a file with a whole lot of rows and columns and numbers,” Dr Bichel-Findlay said. “You can visualise all of your data from ceiling to floor in 3D and that’s where you pick things up.”

While the undergraduate degree does provide a path to postgraduate specialisation, it has been designed to make students job ready in the real world. Dr Bichel-Findlay said students should be able to find employment in the health informatics field once they’ve graduate from this course.

They will also be eligible to apply to study for the Certified Health Informatician Australia (CHIA) credential, with the degree covering all nine CHIA competencies. Graduates are expected to be ready to work in a broad range of areas in healthcare, from health promotion, education and advocacy to eHealth, health data and information management systems, planning and policy, project management and evaluation, and research and consultancy across both public and private health sectors.

With health informatics and digital health knowledge in increasing demand throughout the health system, Dr Bichel-Findlay is also developing a digital health major for all of UTS's masters programs, including its master of public health, primary healthcare, health services management and advanced nursing degrees.

“All of our masters courses will have the option of a digital health major,” she said. “And I’m working with HIMAA and HISA and ACHI to develop these courses to make sure that they are reflective of the real-world skills that people need.”

While demand for health informatics skills is growing, many undergraduate courses in health informatics and health information management are actually disappearing from tertiary education facilities. And those universities that do teach data analytics and informatics generally tend to run their courses out of their IT faculties rather than health.

Dr Bichel-Findlay believes UTS is onto a winner with its new major as part of a health science degree. “Given that we’re UTS and technology is in the title of the university, we’re hoping that we can really shine in this area.”

Pictured above are Animal Logic's Toby Grime (left) and UTS deputy vice chancellor Glenn Wightwick in the Data Arena. Photo: Joanne Saad.

Posted in Australian eHealth

Tags: HISA

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