National Institutes of Health launch video introducing mHealth: a new discipline in health research

In today’s society we are almost never without our mobile devices. We are constantly connected to one another through a vast global network of wireless signals. In the U.S. alone, there are over 285 million wireless subscribers. As technology advances, it has seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, and now, health researchers are beginning to leverage this technology to manage our health and behaviour. Wearable digital health sensors have been developed that can track everything from our heart rate and breathing pattern to our blood chemistry and hydration level and even our activity. The information collected from sensors and participant reports can be combined to infer health status, cognitions, attitudes, and mood. With help from our mobile devices, the data from these sensors can be analysed and transmitted directly to the person, family, or health professionals. And so, a new discipline in health research has been born. Mobile health, or mHealth for short. Our constant connection to mobile devices and wearable sensors presents an opportunity for real-time collection of biological, environmental, and behavioural data. The ability to track many different aspects of our thoughts, activities, and biological processes provides a phenomenal resource of integrated data. For example, integrating data collected about activity tracked via sensors with data from a heart rate monitor will provide better explanation of fluctuations in heart function than either sensor alone. The sensor data can distinguish whether a person is moving or being still. If a subject wearing a heart rate monitor is running, cycling, or speeding around a racetrack you would expect an elevated heart rate, but if they are sitting still, an elevated heart rate could be cause for alarm. So sensors can provide context for interpreting biological data. Behavior monitoring is only one advantage of mHealth. The opportunity for immediate, individualized intervention is unprecedented. Furthermore, mHealth has the potential to reduce disparities in access to health care. An estimated 98% of the adult population in the U.S. own cell phones. So, unlike initial efforts targeted towards computerised health, mHealth has the ability to reach across the socioeconomic divide. Areas of mHealth of particular interest involve self-management of chronic disorders. mHealth interventions have been created to help people manage diabetes, stop smoking, and cope with depression. However, as technology develops at lightning speed, research into the efficacy and effectiveness of these technologies lags behind. Using an evidence-based approach is the gold standard for evaluating new health interventions. Applying the same stringent criteria to mHealth will be essential for ensuring its success. mHealth has the potential to revolutionise health if we take the right approach

As part of the National Institutes of Health’s Behavioral and Social Sciences Seminar Series they’re hosting a mHealth Measurement workshop on Friday 29th October 2014 at the Natcher Conference Center, NIH Campus, Bethesda, MD, USA.

Focused on the challenges facing mHealth Evidence the workshop will be led by Wendy Nilsen PhD, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the NiH featuring a panel including David Mohr PhD, Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University, Inbal Nahum-Shani PhD, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and Bethany Raiff PhD, Department of Psychology at the Rowan University.

Related: Check out a comprehensive calendar of mHealth events taking place in 2014.

About David Doherty
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