New centre uses apps to raise health in Sydney’s west

Text messaging to control blood pressure in diabetics and mobile phone apps to support medication use are among the digital health programs led by a new University of Sydney research centre launched today in Westmead.

Digital apps can generate targeted messages and health advice 

With the stated aim of cutting the prevalence of chronic health conditions in western Sydney, the $5.5 million Westmead Applied Research Centre (WARC) is focused on preventing ill health while ensuring that people with chronic health issues are well-supported to have as high a quality of life as possible.

A major initiative of the University of Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health District, the Centre has a team of multi-skilled researchers and clinicians with expertise in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, smoking, nutrition, obesity and physical activity.

Professor Clara Chow, who heads the WARC, is adamant that collaboration is the key to improving western Sydney’s chronic health challenges.

We are working with a range of partners, both inside and outside the health system, to tackle the fundamentals that drive health.

Professor Clara Chow, Director, Westmead Applied Research Centre, University of Sydney
Professor Chris Peck, Associate Professor Julie Redfern, Professor Clara Chow, Professor Duncan Ivison ans Dr Geoff Lee MP

Professor Chris Peck, Associate Professor Julie Redfern, Professor Clara Chow, Professor Duncan Ivison and Dr Geoff Lee MP

“Health is multifaceted,” says Professor Chow, who is also cardiologist at the University of Sydney’s Westmead Clinical School and  at Westmead Hospital.

“It’s affected by many factors, including income, information, education, lifestyle and the environment. That’s why we are working with a range of partners, both inside and outside the health system, to tackle the fundamentals that drive health.

“This is especially so in western Sydney where chronic illnesses are more common, and the population is more diverse and less wealthy than in other parts of greater Sydney.”

“A central program of WARC is to provide personalised high quality support via mobile phone text messages to people with chronic diseases.  We know from our global research that this support makes a real difference to people’s health following treatment for heart disease.

“This idea is backed by complex and sophisticated clinical algorithms to generate targeted messages and programs. Fusing digital technology and medical science in this way means we can creates healthcare solutions that are affordable, scalable and capable of continuous evolution.”

The work of the Westmead Applied Research Centre is essential for local patients and communities as well having national and international importance.

Professor Chris Peck, Director of the University of Sydney’s Westmead Initiative

Commenting on the Centre’s launch, Professor Chris Peck, Director of the University of Sydney’s Westmead Initiative said: “The work of the Westmead Applied Research Centre is essential for local patients and communities as well having national and international importance.

“In the first five years, the Centre and its partners will deliver services to address the causes of chronic diseases affecting the population of western Sydney. This will include the management and prevention of heart and other medical problems, as well as improvements to clinical services and how we care for patients.” 

Member for Parramatta, Geoff Lee welcomed this joint effort to improve health outcomes for Western Sydney residents.

“I commend the university and hospital for working together to deliver smarter ways to reduce chronic disease and help people achieve healthier lives. “

“Western Sydney residents benefit from these types of collaborative projects that bring together experts in their respective fields to tackle complex issues.”

Western Sydney vs NSW: comparative health indicators

  • In 2017, 45.5 percent of people aged 16 and above in Western Sydney Local Health District did insufficient physical activity, which is above the NSW average (41.6 percent)
  • In 2017, 11.5 percent of people aged 16 and above in Western Sydney Local Health District had diabetes or high blood glucose, which is above the NSW average (10.1 percent)
  • In 2014-15, deaths from coronary heart disease in Western Sydney Local Health District were 69.5 per 100,000, which is above the NSW average (66.8 per 100,000)
  • In 2017, 51.7 percent of adults in Western Sydney Local Health District were overweight or obese, which is less than the NSW average (53.5 percent).

Examples of digital health programs run by WARC and its partners

TEXTMEDS is a randomised controlled trial funded by the NHMRC investigating whether a program delivered via text messages will improve medication use and cardiovascular risk factors in patients who recently suffered a heart attack. Over 1400 patients have been recruited from 15 hospitals across Australia.

SupportMe is a text messaging support program funded by the NSW Health TRGS for patients with chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It aims to improve health outcomes for patients and reduce costs from inappropriate and fragmented care. 

/Univeristy Public Release. View in full here.