By Rob Argent, ESR 2
The ultimate goal in Connected Health research is to improve patient care or maximise the efficiency of a process by using innovative technologies. Yet it seems surprising in many cases, that the beneficiaries of this work are not consulted during the design phase of a proposed solution.
Having listened to numerous projects taking place in the Connected Health space, it is extraordinary to note the number of projects where the team of investigators are solely computer scientists and engineers and do not contain clinicians, ethnographers or patients. There is some fascinating work going on, yet it seems that sometimes researchers are finding solutions to problems that do not exist, proposing interventions that will not fit in with efficient practice techniques, or have low uptake from the end-user due to the complex nature of the technology. The projects that are successful, and particularly impressive when presented, have been developed collaboratively with frontline clinicians and service-users.
New training networks such as CHESS, or research centres such as the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at UCD, provide a fantastic opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration. With researchers from a multitude of backgrounds; clinical, business, computer and data science, engineering, and social sciences, the opportunity presents itself to not only develop skills as researchers across areas, but also ensure ideas and solutions are both innovative, and applicable in the real world. In addition, building partnerships across the sectors of health, industry and academia give projects every chance to make a sustainable, meaningful difference on how we provide healthcare in the future.
Undertaking a pilot study exploring usability with the target users during the development phase is becoming more prevalent. It gives researchers a chance to understand accessibility, usability and motivation to use such a technology, as well as the past model of checking reliability and error occurrence. This provides a chance to make refinements during development, or alter the approach to make it more applicable in the real-world setting. The strong papers that are published, and Connected Health solutions that are marketable, have considered this usability and accessibility in design.
If we can consider these stakeholders, throughout the design process, conducted research studies will be much more applicable to real-life situations. It does not make sense for a Doctor to try and develop a mobile technology application with cloud based software and good functionality, but nor does it make sense for a software developer to try and create an intervention to improve medication adherence. Those two disciplines (and many more) are reliant on each other, and unless we embrace and facilitate this collaboration, we will not achieve applied research, and will not create effective Connected Health Solutions.