Associate Professor Zoe McKeough
Almost one-third of Australians—or around 7.5 million of us—live with chronic respiratory diseases.
These conditions, which affect the lungs and airways, give rise to such distressing symptoms as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and in some cases congestion.
They can also lead to reduced heart function, fitness, quality of life and even life expectancy.
Such is their impact that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare lists this group of conditions among the top 10 contributors to Australia’s total burden of disease, incurring costs creeping towards $5 billion annually.
Asthma is the most common, but they also include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, mesothelioma, silicosis and lung cancer.
While no cure for these conditions exists, their symptoms can be managed—and thus both quality of life and life expectancy improved—using a variety of interventions, key among them being pulmonary rehabilitation programs.
Associate Professor Zoe McKeough is a researcher in physiotherapy at the Sydney School of Health Sciences, internationally recognised in respiratory physiotherapy interventions for chronic lung disease.
Since 2018 she has been leading a team of academics, clinicians and engineers to develop a mobile digital platform called Mobile Pulmonary Rehabilitation (m-PR™) to support people with chronic lung diseases to better manage their conditions with rehabilitation.
Associat Professor McKeough recently completed a prestigious 12-month REDI Fellowship, which saw her collaborate with Australian digital healthcare company Perx Health on integrating the m-PR™ app into Perx Health’s existing chronic condition management platform, with a view to empowering people with chronic respiratory conditions to better engage with their treatment program.
The fellowship’s primary outcome to date has been the development of Perx-R, a commercially viable evidence-based scalable mobile health platform with the capacity to deliver pulmonary rehabilitation and improved self-management to people with chronic respiratory diseases throughout Australia.
But both Associate Professor McKeough and her industry partners at Perx Health confirm that the benefits have been far wider-reaching for both parties.
“As well as the opportunity to translate the m-PR™ prototype functionality onto the Perx Health infrastructure,” said Associate Professor McKeough.
“The REDI Fellowship has also given me the opportunity to start having important conversations with the necessary stakeholders within state and federal government, private and public health organisations, and private health insurers about implementing digital models of care.
Perx-R Patient Interface
In addition, she says, she has gained valuable insights into the commercial realities of developing and implementing a mobile health platform—knowledge she has already begun to share with faculty colleagues as they work to develop their own digital products and create strategic partnerships to ultimately commercialise and make them widely available.
“The whole experience has increased my use of relevant technology platforms, widened my networking skills and improved my communication and presentation skills,” said Associate Professor McKeough.
“I have had a wonderful experience working with Perx Health to create a mobile health platform that extends Perx Health’s capabilities to incorporate pulmonary rehabilitation.
"And while the fellowship has now been completed, I will continue to work closely with Perx Health to achieve our dream of improving access to care with digital models to people with chronic lung diseases.”
Perx Health co-founder Hugo Rourke – himself a University of Sydney alumnus – likewise describes the fellowship as “an outstanding success”, noting that Associate Professor McKeough “contributed at the nexus of clinical program design, medical research and digital product commercialisation.”
“The REDI program allowed us to accelerate our vision for building digital rehabilitation programs that are built on the best guidelines and medical expertise,” said Rourke.
“Further, our team gained by having such an expert embedded in our team who brought unique skills and different perspectives to our continuing development.”
REDI (Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry) Fellowships are funded by the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund through its MTPConnect program, to bring together top researchers working on high-priority medical projects with relevant companies, in order to facilitate the translation of new research into commercially viable products for the benefit of the wider community.
Faculty of Medicine and Health Executive Dean, Professor Robyn Ward AM FAHMS, strongly recommends the REDI program as a way of encouraging industry partners to engage with our bright and motivated academics.
"Particular thanks go to Perx Health – as well as to all previous industry partners, who have supported a total of six academics from the faculty to secure highly competitive REDI Fellowships since the program launched in 2021," said Professor Ward.