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Data mining to combat chronic kidney disease

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Signs of chronic kidney disease are present in close to 10 per cent of the Australian population, and this figure is rising, with around 30 per cent of Australians at risk of developing the condition in the future. That alone is staggering, but if you live in a rural area or you’re Aboriginal, the outlook is much worse.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) – a condition characterised by the gradual loss of kidney function – affects people living in rural and remote areas at almost twice the rate of city dwellers. It affects Indigenous Australians at more than four times the rate.

In a country that invests so heavily in public health services, statistics like these beg the question, where are the gaps in the system?

One of the key challenges is that only about 10 per cent of sufferers know they have the condition, due to an absence of symptoms, particularly in the early stages. This makes them less likely to go to the doctor and makes doctors less likely to request kidney function tests in the first place.

In partnership with the WA Country Health Service, the WA Department of Health, the WA Primary Health Alliance, and the Digital Health CRC, Curtin Professor Suzanne Robinson is leading new research to better identify and manage CKD using health data analytics.

Robinson hopes this will generate new knowledge to alleviate the burden of CKD on both patients and the health economy.

The research uses data linkage and machine learning to mine existing health records, and will provide new insights into the risk factors associated with CKD, identifying the gaps in the system that are contributing to the rising burden of disease.

The data being analysed comes from blood test results and the information recorded when a patient enters the hospital. This paints a picture of the patient journey right from the very first onset of signs of poor kidney function, even before symptoms appear. It will be the events that happen in those very early stages that are key to new interventions.

“A main objective of the research is to identify the ways that we can intervene early, to prevent people developing CKD, or to delay their progression from early stage CKD to a more burdensome disease,” she says.

“The digital era has seen the collection of large amounts of data at the forefront of helping inform health policy, planning and patient support.”

The project is funded by the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre, WA Country Health Services, WA Department of Health, WA Primary Health Alliance and Curtin University.

It will run for four years from 2020 to 2024.

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