Gimme an “E” for Digital Health Research

January 9, 2014

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the 5th annual mHealth Summit outside of Washington DC and presenting at its Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences Roundtable. Over 5,000 people attended, representing a broad array of stakeholders in mHealth (aka “mobile health”) including the federal government, academia, the health care industry, software development, and small business. More than 400 speakers shared their insights and perspectives about how we can leverage mobile communications technology to improve healthcare and health outcomes.

Across all the great discourse I heard a common theme: that innovations in mHealth, such as health apps for smartphones and web-based health interventions, will only survive in the long-term if they are actually effective at improving health!  In a keynote speech, a representative from the health care industry pointed out the need to measure the efficacy and effectiveness of mobile health apps. Jacob Reider, the acting director of the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) of Technology, stressed the “S” factor in accomplishing this goal: We need to scale integrated patient health data for improved accuracy and efficiency to make it simple, streamlined, and smart, as well as standards-based and semantically sound.

This got me thinking about how we’re focusing on the letter “E” in our Digital Health research at CIRP@CHOP: through evidence, evaluation, ecosystem, and engagement. As we think about ways to improve health management and prevent disease and injury using mobile apps or websites, we need more evidence that this technology is designed not only with the most up-to-date medical information, but also that it uses proven approaches to change behavior. Even when these health apps are built with the best evidence, it’s critical to evaluate them with real patients to determine whether or not they change behavior and for whom they demonstrate significant results. And, as in most of the research we do, it takes a group of stakeholders, or an ecosystem, to be successful. That ecosystem includes a broad spectrum of expert individuals behavioral and public health researchers, healthcare industry leaders, policymakers, software developers, designers, and consumers working together as a team to further ideas and research. This culminates in the final Eengagement. The goal of the Digital Health Initiative at CIRP is to engage our stakeholder ecosystem in current information and research so as to better understand how to:

  • build more effective digital health tools
  • evaluate their use and impact using pragmatic approaches and software
  • gather various stakeholder insights throughout each step of the evaluation process

Let’s work together to fulfill one of our child injury prevention research wishes for 2014 to increase demand for proof of the safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of digital health solutions.