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Dr Clara Chow

Cardiologist and digital health expert

Dr Clara Chow

Cardiologist and digital health expert Dr Clara Chow is using smart technology to keep patients heart-healthy.

When Clara Chow was on her educational journey to becoming a leading cardiologist (a doctor specialising in the treatment of heart disease), she says the idea of studying computer science would not have occurred to her. “I thought that must have been the most boring subject ever,” she says.

And yet today, as the Academic Director of the Westmead Applied Research Centre (WARC), digital tech is not only central to her work, but Clara even occasionally lectures computer science students and participates in tutorials about digital health and using health data.

Clara’s first foray into digital health started with a simple text-messaging program. Clara and her colleagues at WARC – established by the University of Sydney with the Western Sydney Local Health District – noticed patients who had been treated for heart disease were returning to hospital too soon. “We found the need to support them after they were discharged from hospital,” she explains.

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They started sending text messages to the patients to remind them of simple heart health steps, like checking blood pressure.

“The patients that got the program achieved lower cholesterol, they were more likely to quit smoking, more likely to be active,” says Clara. “Even though it was such a simple intervention it was really effective.”

At-home health assistant

Now Clara and her colleagues at WARC have taken it up a notch – developing software that can receive data from patients at home, via wearable sensors such as activity, blood pressure and heart-rate monitors. The software, which is still in development, then uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to tailor healthcare tips, advice and directives to the patient, communicated through an app in their smartphone.

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The software is called MICA (My Intelligent Cardiac Assistant) and in 2019 WARC received a one-million-dollar grant from Google to help develop the project, including Google-led tech training. Google AI experts will also be involved in developing the technology.

“The healthcare of the future needs to have people with a high level of digital literacy,” Clara says.

Dr Chow’s study and career path

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Tech 2020.

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