Palmer symposium explores mobile health technology
By Erinn Connor
The age of Fitbits and calorie-counting apps may just be the beginning when it comes to using technology in health care. The future of mobile health technology was the focus of this year’s Ruth K. Palmer Symposium, the annual research event hosted by the Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing.
Niehoff Dean Vicki Keough, PhD, RN, FAAN, welcomed the largest group ever to this year’s event, noting how much of the research being presented wasn’t even fathomable a few years ago.
“We will together take a peek into the research world of digital health—these are topics that 10 years ago were figments of our imagination, wild dreams, and science fiction,” said Keough. “I believe telemedicine, wearables, self-diagnostic tools have the potential to change patient health exponentially. Technology will improve relationships between patients and nurses, nurses and communities, and health care providers all over the world.”
Keynote speaker Ryan Shaw, PhD, RN, assistant professor of health informatics at Duke University School of Nursing, discussed how various new and developing technologies will help create a bigger picture and better context of someone’s health care. Instead of only seeing a patient when they’re sick, doctors could constantly be receiving information (such as blood sugar levels, weights, and more) that could help them either prevent disease or stop a chronic illness from progressing.
Technology will help further progress the ongoing movement towards precision or personalized medicine. This is already starting to become popular in cancer treatment, particularly immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Shaw noted that it’s likely the future of care will not be based on the response of the “average patient,” like it is now, but rather on the individual DNA, environment, and lifestyle of a person.
“Using precision medicine lets healthcare providers assess disease risk and then create custom disease monitoring, treatment, prevention, and detection methods for just that one patient,” said Shaw.
He noted that smartphones are the easiest way to collect data from people, as nearly 77 percent of the U.S. population owns one. Companies are now working to make it easier for health data collected on smartphones to be transferred to a person’s electronic health record.
Shaw also presented data from studies where he is using motivational text messages to help people lose weight or quit smoking. He suggested it’s an easy and cheap method to help patients hold themselves accountable.
Other pieces of technology that could have a future impact on healthcare include implantables (a small sensor injected into the skin that measures the oxygen level in the blood), contact lenses that can measure a person’s blood sugar, and ingestibles, a small “pill” that uses wireless technology to track how the body reacts to medication to find the best dosage levels.
“These devices can help health care workers see health as it occurs, in a person’s natural environment,” said Shaw.
In between other speakers and presentations, Palmer Symposium attendees were able to view research posters from students and faculty that were displayed through the Center for Translational Research and Education.
“Today, our care has changed so much based on technology innovation,” said Health Sciences Division Provost Margaret Callahan, PhD, CRNA, FNAP, FAAN. “Now we look to the best and the brightest of our community to bring this new knowledge to our patients.”