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CSO Perspectives: Capitalizing on the Research Potential of Mobile and Digital Technologies

Published on July 11, 2016 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 1 year ago


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By Bryan A. Wolf, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer and Director of the Research Institute

This spring, I had the pleasure of introducing the kickoff event for the new mHealth Research Affinity Group (RAG) in The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute. Many of us believe that mHealth tools — focused on mobile and digital health technologies including social media, smartphones, wearable devices, and more — are poised to transform the realm of clinical research. The level of engagement and interest in the research community at CHOP reflects that vast potential.

Indeed, during the kickoff event, Dennis Durbin, MD, MSCE, the director of our Office of Clinical and Translational Research, remarked that, as an epidemiologist and population health researcher, he sees mHealth technologies as tools equally transformative in that realm today as new technologies like next-generation sequencing and CRISPR are in the basic sciences. These tools truly have the power to revolutionize how we approach certain research questions about improving children’s health.

This new RAG coalesces the CHOP research community around this topic into a formal structure. The group works to foster collaborative efforts to expand CHOP’s capabilities in mHealth tools and approaches in research and provide a forum for educational and networking opportunities. The mHealth RAG is gathering strength concurrently with, and as an integrated component of, a hospital-wide digital health strategy at CHOP.

Our CEO, Madeline Bell, has emphasized that digital health is a priority for us all as an institution, and strategic planning is underway to move that priority forward in a coordinated way across patient care, education, and research. (The terms “mHealth” and “digital health” are interchangeable here.) Under the leadership of co-chairs, Nadia Dowshen, MD, Linda Fleisher, PhD, MPH, and Lisa Schwartz, PhD, as well as Dr. Durbin, the mHealth RAG will contribute the perspective of research needs and goals to the larger planning process.

While that context tells you why all of this is so exciting at a conceptual level, I am also delighted to share some of the real examples of mHealth research that has already been done, or is now underway, here at CHOP. The latest issue of our Research Institute newsmagazine, Bench to Bedside, puts a spotlight on mHealth research projects spanning a range of health topics and a variety of approaches:

  • A research collaboration with CHOP’s Adolescent HIV Initiative and Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Centers will conduct a comprehensive social media intervention to reach youth under 30 across the HIV care continuum in the city.
  • Using an online tool as an innovative form of data collection, sleep researcher Jodi Mindell, PhD, led a recent study of infants’ and toddlers’ sleep patterns that may offer groggy parents a glimmer of reassurance.
  • To help childhood cancer survivors adults make the transition into managing their own health, a new CHOP study is offering them an online survivorship care planning tool in combination with a text-messaging intervention focused on their unique needs.
  • A collaborative pilot research project by investigators at CHOP and Penn is using the Way to Health research platform to determine if a behavioral economic incentive technique called loss aversion motivates young people with type 1 diabetes to improve their glycemic control.

Meanwhile, the mHealth RAG continues to hold talks and networking meetings on campus, open to anyone in the CHOP community who has an interest in mHealth tools as they relate to research, and to collaborators from other institutions. Researchers are welcome to share their mHealth projects with the RAG leaders for possible inclusion in a fall showcase event as well. To get involved, contact [email protected].