This month we are very pleased to profile Dr Rowena Forsyth. Rowena is a lecturer in Biomedical Informatics and Digital Health at The University of Sydney and is a member of the Cyberpsychology Research Group leadership team.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself
Hi everyone, I’m Rowena! I’m a health sociologist working in Digital Health. I’m a Lecturer in Biomedical Informatics and Digital Health and part of the Cyberpsychology Research Group at the University of Sydney. I use qualitative methods to understand social, relational and ethical aspects of how health professionals, patients and families use health information. Over my research journey I’ve studied the transition from paper based to computerised pathology ordering, patient-held health records, ethical aspects of bone marrow transplant and medical tourists’ decision making and use of online support communities. I’m currently beginning a new project on health professionals’ use of online support communities and am interested in how people make meaningful connections with others and assume different roles as they interact online. In 2022 we‘re also beginning a new Master of Digital Health and Data Science degree jointly between the Faculty of Medicine and Health and the Faculty of Engineering that is very exciting.
How do you define digital health?
For me digital health is a broad term encompassing use of computerised technologies for any aspect of health. It could be individual apps for tracking medications or wearable monitors for recording heart rate and physical activity. These technologies are also used collectively by people to share information, support each other and educate themselves. Enabling connections between people who are physically distant from each other such as patients and clinicians (e.g. telehealth and remote monitoring) or between patients and professionals with their peers (e.g online support communities) offer fascinating avenues to think about how these connections foster social relationships and clinical care. Digital health is also a way for health care organisations and policy makers to understand their patient populations, services and workforce and provide opportunities for linkages between organisations across geographical boundaries.
What do you think will enable digital health projects and innovations to succeed?
I think the most important thing is to have a clear and detailed picture of who the users are for the technology and to understand that their needs, resources and characteristics can change (and be able to account for these changes in the way we design and implement our technologies). Taking the time to get to know our user communities (both the people in our studies and the broader community) is vital for success. It’s a worthy investment of time for us and ultimately helps with translation if we’ve already established and invested in these relationships. Showing people the value of a technology for them (and not just for us as researchers or clinicians) is also an important step in this process.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing digital health at the moment?
I think a key challenge is achieving cross-institutional and multi-disciplinary collaboration for researchers, clinicians and industry. Bringing together insights from information technology, social sciences and clinical disciplines is important for taking a comprehensive approach to what we do. Throughout my career I’ve always appreciated bringing a social science approach to technology projects and have enjoyed learning from others about their approach to a topic or problem. I find that most people are often keen to share things they’re passionate about. The challenge can be finding the time and resources to work together formally. Being an interdisciplinary practitioner is so important and I think starting this process by giving students the opportunity to engage with industry is vital, especially for those not in clinical degrees but who study more generalist fields such as health or information technology. Also, for me, understanding the social, relational, affective and ethical aspects of the technologies we use is of utmost importance.
Do you have any interesting resources or helpful networks people should know about?
Cyberpsychology Research Group
Master of Digital Health and Data Science