Please tell us a little bit out yourself
Hi all. I am Jacques Raubenheimer (good luck with the pronunciation!). I originally hail from South Africa, having moved to Sydney at the start of 2017 to work with Nick Buckley’s Translational Australian Clinical Toxicology team.
I entered University hoping to become a clinical psychologist and left university with a PhD in Research Psychology, amongst others. After a stint working in the private sector, I made a slight career change by returning to academic life as a lecturer in biostatistics at the University of the Free State. While still at the UFS, I wrote a book teaching post-graduate students how to write their theses using Microsoft Word (I am also a certified Microsoft Office Master Instructor), and was pleasantly surprised to discover that even the Sydney Uni library has a copy. I live on the Central Coast (I spend a lot of time on trains…) with my wife and two sons—the youngest of whom is about to sit his HSC. We also own a Border Collie and are owned by an absolutely aloof cat. Weekends are pretty low-key for me, with long runs on most Saturdays (either with Terrigal Trotters, or on my own listening to podcasts or sermons, but almost always with the indefatigable dog on leash) and Sundays are Church, followed by family time, reading or necessary home maintenance. I was an avid mountain hiker (one of my great loves is the majestic Drakensberg) and rock climber, but have not had much time to venture into those sports here in Australia, yet. I would love to do more creative writing, although that may have to wait for retirement!
As a biostatistician, I find myself involved in a whole plethora of projects. I have done a fair amount of work on the South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration (SACTRC) poisoning admissions data from Sri Lanka, and for the Sri-Lankan Theatre-based Harm-reduction Education about Alcohol Trial in Rural Environments (THEATRE) trial. I am currently trying to focus most of my energy on large linked health- and administrative datasets, such as the Australian Suicide Prevention using Health-Linked Data (ASHLi) project and the Poisoning And enVenomation Linkage to evaluate Outcomes and clinical Variation in Australia (PAVLOVA) projects. These projects all come together under the larger umbrella of the NHMRC-funded Medicines Intelligence Centre of Research Excellence (MICRE). Within that same space, we are exploring the possibility of some other projects too, especially around psychotropic dispensing. Other avenues of research I have ventured down are the analysis of social media data as well as the use of Google Trends data. I enjoy teaching, although my current role is research-focused, so I only do a small hodgepodge of lectures each year.
How do you define digital health?
Instead of a dictionary definition of digital health, I will rather discuss what digital health means to my research. The obvious connection is that we live in the digital era and data, these days, are almost entirely digital. In fact, one could go even further to note that as the use of digital technology in healthcare increases, more and more digital data will become available, because every single digital health technology—whether an app or a physical device—is also a data capturing platform. Thus for me, working in digital health means discovering the data that can make a difference to health outcomes, determining how those data can be harnessed, and of course, analysing data.
What do you think will enable digital health projects and innovations to succeed?
I think one of the biggest overlooked yardsticks for success is longevity. If we really want to make a difference, the interventions we introduce must be sustainable over a long period of time. If researchers are developing an app, a core part of the process should be to ask who will keep maintaining the app when the initial funding inevitably ceases. I think some of the DHIN researchers have made very good contributions in this regard. This is where the open source movement or commercialisation, etc. come into place. Similarly, if a dataset is being designed, how will the continued maintenance of that data-gathering infrastructure be maintained, and access to the data remain open? Rose Cairns from the TACT team is doing good work in this regard with Australian Poisons Information Centre data. Things are happening so fast in the digital health sphere, that attention is often focussed on immediate needs, but thinking and planning for long-term impact is what will really make the difference.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing digital health at the moment?
Again referring to my own sphere, the biggest challenge we are encountering is access to data. We (as a society) have data on everything and anything—we are swimming (sinking?) in a data deluge, and we can use hardly any of it, because it is either in the hands of commercial corporations who use their data for their own financial gain, but so often only allow token data access to researchers. Twitter has proved itself quite an exception in this regard with academic access to its new v2 API, but we’ll see how that plays out over the years—what its longevity is. Other data are government-controlled, and access is barred by reams of red tape. We still have a long way to go in terms of allowing meaningful access to data for impactful research.
Do you have any interesting resources or helpful networks people should know about?
I could share my Twitter or LinkedIn handles, but people will be very disappointed, because I probably make at best one or two posts per year.
For the South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration (SACTRC): https://www.sactrc.org
For some reflections on the ethical use of social media data, see the DocNow white paper: https://www.docnow.io/docs/docnow-whitepaper-2018.pdf
For the Australian Poisons Information Centre data project: https://ardc.edu.au/project/national-poisons-information-centre-dataset/
For the Medicines Intelligence Centre of Research Excellence (MICRE): https://ijpds.org/article/view/1726 and https://cbdrh.med.unsw.edu.au/project/centre-research-excellence-medicines-intelligence