This month we are pleased to feature PhD candidate and Project Manager at the Australian Clinical Trials Alliance (ACTA), Nicola Straiton. Nic is also a valued member of the Digital Health Week 2021 Working Group.
Please tell us a little about yourself. I am a nurse (originally from the UK) with a specialist background in cardiovascular disease, currently undertaking a PhD in the field within the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney. In addition, I work as a Project Manager at the Australian Clinical Trials Alliance (ACTA), the peak body supporting and uplifting investigator-led clinical trials across Australia.
I am passionate and nerdy about all things research, I started off on this journey by completing an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Science and was lucky enough to work in Germany for a year in a cell biology lab. But I wanted to see how science could really improve health outcomes both at an individual patient level and for different communities, to do this I retrained and completed my Masters in Adult Nursing. This career expansion allowed me to translate (both practically and in plain language) what we learnt at the science bench into real-world health outcomes for patients and their families. Having had opportunities to work in basic science and different clinical environments, I have started to understand more about the importance of co-designing research with patients and the public, and in particular the benefits such partnerships offer in the growth of digital health.
What is your research on? My research focuses on understanding and supporting cardiovascular disease patients and their families, in particular older patients (often over 80 years of age) with valvular heart disease. I am interested in examining how patient’s functional capacity and health-related quality of life, changes after traditional and contemporary heart valve procedures, with a specific emphasis on patients’ experiences of the novel, minimally invasive treatment approach. Within this research we have also embedded digital health, in the form of wearables (e.g. activity trackers), to monitor the levels of physical activity undertaken by older community-dwelling adults with valvular heart disease, both before and after treatment.
What are the real-world consequences of your research? For older people with valvular heart disease we hope our research will allow both them and their families, to understand the condition more and how this may impact their daily lives. In addition, be able to describe to patients what changes in functional capacity and health-related quality of life might be expected before and after treatment. This may be important as most older people with health problems often place greater value on their physical independence and quality of life, than longevity alone.
Furthermore, our research will hopefully address the evidence gap associated with the limited inclusion of older people in research (in particular digital health), and provide an indication into the information required to inform clinical decision-making, with and for, older adults with valvular heart disease.
What does digital health mean to you? Real-world opportunities in many contexts, for example empowered patients, equity in healthcare delivery and potentially more clinical tools which can be co-designed with input from patients and healthcare professionals, to achieve overall better health outcomes for a broader, more diverse population.
In cardiovascular care, digital technology (especially wearables) provides an unprecedented opportunity to understand, investigate, and promote sustainable health behaviours and overall wellbeing. Understanding what type of patients, need what type of information, and in what delivery format, could facilitate healthcare support and guidance which could be personalised, actionable and integrated seamlessly into people’s lives.
Do you have any resources or links you would like to share? Consumer involvement and engagement toolkit (project manager) https://involvementtoolkit.clinicaltrialsalliance.org.au/
Connect with Nicola
A huge thank you to Nicola for taking the time to be our November feature!