AU$7.5m stumped up by Australian government for research into healthcare AI

The funding will dispersed via grants through the federal government's Medical Research Future Fund.

The federal government on Monday announced it will invest AU$7.5 million for research into the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare.

"Artificial intelligence will be critical in transforming the future of healthcare through improved preventive, diagnostic, and treatment approaches," a statement from acting Minister for Health Anne Ruston said.

The new funding will be dispensed via grants to researchers through the Medical Research Future Fund. The government hopes the cash will be used to fully understand the potential benefits of AI in healthcare.

"AI for better health, aged care, and disability services was recently identified as one of the top three areas where Australia is well positioned to transform existing industries and build new ones, including opportunities to export solutions worldwide," Ruston's statement continued.

"This investment also has the potential to maximise Australia's capacity to attract and retain high quality AI researchers and stay at the forefront of AI internationally."

See also: How to implement AI and machine learning (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Also tasked with healthcare, the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), the system administrator for the country's My Health Record, has separately provided information on the number of healthcare provider organisations connected to the online medical file.

The ADHA has been focusing on connecting general practice, public and private hospitals, the pathology sector, and the pharmacy sector to My Health Record in the first three years of its operation. It has since extended this to specialists.

In response to questions on notice, the ADHA said as of 27 October 2019, it had 7,362 of 8,231 general practices -- 89% -- connected through the My Health Record. 90%, or 4,801 pharmacies, were connected.

51,000 public hospitals were registered to use the My Health Record and 209 of a possible 637 private hospitals were also registered.

The ADHA also had 756 of a possible 9,863 specialists connected. Meanwhile, only 3% of all aged care providers, 247 in total, were connected to the agency.

During Senate Estimates in October, ADHA chief operating officer Bettina McMahon said the agency was working directly with a number of software providers that service medical specialists to improve the usability of the software, such as the way it connects and uses the My Health Record to "improve the experience of those specialists in connecting to this information".

See also: The ADHA wants to end the use of fax machines in Australian healthcare

In September, ADHA said nearly all public providers of pathology and diagnostic imaging use the electronic health record, with over 850,000 diagnostic reports being uploaded to My Health Record every week.

"There has been significant progress in connecting pathology and diagnostic imaging providers to the My Health Record," ADHA said at the time.

"Nearly all public providers are already uploading and the number of private providers registering, and uploading is accelerating."

Private health providers have consistently been at the top of the Notifiable Data Breaches quarterly report from the OAIC.

ADHA said in its annual report there were 38 matters reported to OAIC during the year concerning potential unauthorised access, security, or integrity breaches.

37 of these matters were counted as breaches, and the ADHA said most were the result of administrative errors such as "intertwined" Medicare records or processing errors when creating records for infants.

Three involved the unauthorised access to an individual's My Health Record.

As of 30 June 2019, there were 22.55 million active records in the My Health Record system. A total of 1.74 million people accessed their record via the national consumer portal and a total of 493 million documents were uploaded to the My Health Record system.

ADHA representatives during October's Senate Estimates also said there had been 23,528 records cancelled since 22 February 2019; at the same time, 22,129 people have opted back in.

Adding additional information late Monday, the ADHA said the number of My Health Records containing Medicare, clinical, or medicine documents now sits at more than 12.5 million with documents in them.  

The agency said over 1.6 billion documents have been uploaded to My Health Records, including over 40 million clinical documents and 90 million medicine documents. More than 679 million of these were uploaded in the last nine months.  

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