As part of our November Westmead issue, we profile Anna Singleton. Anna shares some surprises she has encountered in the digital health space and the importance of work-life balance.
What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?
Every day is a little different. Most days involve writing papers, peer-reviewing others work or attending meetings. I’m also currently supervising two MD students. Together, we’re working toward publishing a systematic review about the quality of electronic health interventions for women with, or recovering from, breast cancer. Each workday, I make time to enjoy lunch with my colleagues. Having a mental break can do wonders for productivity.
My main priority now is recruitment and follow-up visits for my randomised controlled trial. Last year, I worked with women who went through breast cancer treatments and the team at the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute to co-design a post-treatment health self-management program delivered via text message. The six-month “EMPOWER-SMS” program focuses on improving women’s mental and physical health after breast cancer treatment and, in turn, reducing risks of recurrence. My research assistant, Rebecca Raeside, and I are now recruiting women to test EMPOWER-SMS compared to usual care. We have recruited 119 so far (41 to go!). We plan to finish recruitment in February 2020 and anticipate the results by December 2020.
How do you define digital health?
Digital health is any technology that facilitates health professionals or patients’ access to health information. For example, electronic medical records have made it easier for health professionals to access patients’ medical history. Also, digital health devices, like apps and smartwatches, are inundating the market, making it easier for patients to track their health progress and feel more in control of their health.
What do you think will enable digital health projects and innovations to succeed?
- TRANSLATION: I see many digital health innovations stop after the research phase for various reasons (eg lack of funding or resources). I think it will be important for us as researchers to plan ahead to expand successful innovations and help as many people as possible.
- PROMOTION: Even when evidence-based digital innovations become publicly available, I find that few patients have heard of them or know how to access them. Promoting the programs within hospitals and throughout the community via media, posters, websites and health professional recommendations will assist people in accessing these helpful innovations.
- PRICE: With this ever-growing digital space, people are accustomed to downloading free apps or receiving free programs. We should try our best to keep the cost of digital health innovations low or free to improve uptake and reduce access barriers.
Have you come across any surprises or challenges along the way?
I was surprised by the age range of people who own mobile phones, send text messages or use apps. I’ve met 45-year-olds who don’t own a phone at all and 85-year-olds who have shown me the amazing health-apps they use daily. The digital health space is growing and changing rapidly. It’s exciting to see so many people getting involved, and that age isn’t necessarily a barrier to participation.
The challenge with this proliferating space is making sure the available digital health interventions are effective. For example, my colleague Dr. Karla Santo (cardiologist, researcher) conducted a systematic review of available medication adherence apps, where she rated the apps’ quality and interactivity. Then, I helped her test the two ‘best’ apps in a randomised controlled trial compared to usual care for three months. We recruited 166 people with heart disease, who were each taking approximately four medications per day. At three months, we found that people who used a medication reminder app had better medication adherence than those who didn’t have an app. Patients also reported feeling more confident to remember to take their medications independently. I’m now collaborating with Dr. Jennifer Dai (Lecturer, GP) to conduct a similar systematic review of breast cancer apps.
What are some of the highlights of working at WARC?
WARC has an inspiring, multidisciplinary and multicultural team, who are passionate about using digital technologies to help people manage their health. The centre is led by two world-class researchers, Prof Clara Chow and Prof Julie Redfern. It is motivating to be working for such hardworking people, who empower their staff to succeed and strive to improve people’s access to healthcare. Moreover, I have the privilege of being supervised and mentored by Dr Stephanie Partridge, who helps grow my skills as an independent researcher. Finally, our WARC team is supportive, inclusive and promote mental well-being. From organising ‘My Heart Day’ events that promote heart health to the public, or ‘Harmony Day’, which celebrates our cultural backgrounds by enjoying food and trivia about our home countries (I’m originally from Canada!), we always make sure to add a little fun into our work schedule.
Do you have any interesting resources or helpful networks people should know about?
The Patient-Centered Care (PACER) network promotes patient involvement in research and has many helpful resources, such as health literacy instructions and methods for qualitative research dissemination:
Australian Clinical Trials Alliance Consumer engagement toolkit, which helps inform how to engage consumers in research:
University of Sydney Cancer Research Network:
Connect with Anna:
A huge thank you to Anna for being a Westmead member profile in November!