What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?
I take my dog (Wally the Whippet), for a walk, ride my bike to Redfern and jump on the train to Westmead all before 8 am. I love the train ride, I check twitter, do my emails or listen to a podcast and when I arrive, I feel ready to work.
I am currently recruiting for my postdoc study, TEXTBITES (TEXT message Behavioural Intervention for Teens on Eating, physical activity and Social Wellbeing). I have spent the first half of 2019 co-designing the text message bank with adolescents. It has been a rewarding experience to collaborate with adolescents and learn from their experiences. I am now recruiting adolescents from the wider community to participate in the RCT. This involves forming relationships with high schools and community organisations in Western Sydney, as well as hosting fun and engaging science communication workshops for high school students, thanks to collaborations with Dr Pearl Lee from the Westmead Initiative.
I am also supervising several postgraduate students, who are working on various projects related to adolescent health, digital health and chronic disease prevention. In particular, I am thrilled to be working with two digital health communication postgraduate students from the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Shannon Camilleri and Huijie Zhang on Hungry for Science (@hungry4science). We are developing a digital science communication platform to translate the latest science about young people to young people. Working across disciplines with different students has been a great way to broaden my skills and understanding in the digital health field.
Every week is different, which I love. I endeavour to make time each week for publication and grant writing, as well as reviewing papers and contributing as a community engagement officer for the Young Professionals Network for the International Association for Adolescent Health. Since I started at Westmead Campus in 2018, I have also spent time forming new collaborations and networks.
How do you define digital health?
I define digital health as the application and utility of digital technologies to enhance health services and systems and ultimately improve population health. This can range from simple to complex technologies. In my opinion, from a prevention and intervention perspective, simple technologies should not be undervalued in digital health. They can potentially have significant impacts at a population level with low costs to the healthcare system. For example, my PhD research evaluated a multi-component mobile health program to prevent weight gain and support young adults to change their behaviours and establish healthier habits to reduce their risk of chronic disease. The program offered smartphone apps for participants to track their health, which is costly to develop and maintain. However, it was the simple technologies, such as text messages and telephone coaching calls that were valued most by participants. We learnt that human connection and support from a health professional was a fundamental component to the success of the digital intervention.
What do you think will enable digital health projects and innovations to succeed?
Speaking from a digital intervention perspective, we need to understand how interventions work and the mechanisms of action. This can be achieved through novel research study designs or comprehensive process evaluations. If we can understand how an intervention works, the behavioural techniques or theories or mechanisms of action can be applied to the latest digital technologies. This will help ensure effective digital health interventions can be implemented in health care services promptly.
Have you come across any surprises or challenges along the way?
Everyday! Well, maybe not every day, but in research there is always a challenge waiting around the corner, and that is part of the fun. Every challenge is an opportunity to grow, develop and learn. One of my biggest challenges recently has been obtaining ethical approval for the TEXTBITES study as digital health brings a new level of consideration in terms of participant safety. Our health and medical research structures are often focused on in-person medical interventions. It was challenging to fit my community-based prevention study into a medical research model. As digital health researchers, we need to be actively engaging in research structures and processes, such as ethics committees, to ensure digital health research can be conducted efficiently and safely for all participants.
What are some of the highlights of working at WARC?
Joining WARC has been the best decision for my career. I am supervised and mentored by Professor Julie Redfern (co-director of WARC), who has supported me to develop my research projects and to guide me to become an independent researcher. Julie has strong research values, which promote teamwork, inclusiveness and good team morale. As such it is a highly multidisciplinary and productive research group. We also have lots of fun by participating as a team in community engagement activities such as World Heart Day.
Do you have any interesting resources or helpful networks people should know about?
International Society of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity e- & mHealth Special Interest group: https://www.isbnpa.org/index.php?r=sigPage/view&id=9
International Association for Adolescent Health Young Professionals Network: https://iaah.org/young-professionals-network/