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USC mHealth Collaboratory

Government funding agencies as well as the global clinical research community are increasingly embracing mHealth for its numerous advantages over traditional data collection and research methodologies. These technologies and the unprecedented flow of temporally rich, highly contextualized data that they provide is revolutionizing our understanding of health, related behaviors, and exposures over time. They are also changing health promotion, disease prevention and treatment by providing platforms to deliver Just-In-Time Adaptive Intervention (JITAI), interventions that reach the person at the right time, in the right place, with personalized content that is responsive to momentary needs and changes.

These technologies will empower clinicians, who will be able to more accurately track and assist the health conditions of individual patients with a range of conditions, including chronic issues such as diabetes and heart disease. At the same time, researchers will be able to gather temporally dense and highly contextualized data from many participants at once. This could speed the development of new drugs or other health interventions. mHealth provides new, unprecedented and yet-to-be-imagined ways of approaching health and wellness. Able to support temporally rich, contextualized data collection, real-time, personalized, adaptive interventions, new ways to reach underserved populations across the globe, and an increased reach and quality of care, mHealth will shift the paradigm of clinical and behavioral science research.

The USC mHealth Collaboratory at the Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) was established in 2014. The directors, Donna Spruijt-Metz and Bill Swarthout, aim for the Collaboratory to serve as a nexus for mobile health innovation within USC and eventually throughout California’s academic and business community. The Collaboratory brings together expertise and interests in health and health care, mobile health research, wireless, digital and network technology, smartphones, wearable and deployable sensors, user-centered design, game design and more.

The reach of the mHealth Collaboratory will extend beyond the USC community and academia. The Collaboratory is in the process of developing a California mHealth Consortium with other research institutions in California and elsewhere. The mHealth Collaboratory recently merged with the Center for Interactive Media Technologies in Healthcare at USC (CIMTH), and will continue and expand upon the work begun by the CIMTH. Support for the mHealth Collaboratory is provided by a grant from the USC Research Collaboration Fund offered through the USC Office of Research, with additional support from the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), and the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI).

Some of the main research that the Collaboratory will foster include: the deployment and testing of new and existing technologies to understand and change health-related behaviors and to support patient-centered health care, redesigning current ‘static’ paper or internet-based programs, such as virtual reality-based exposure therapy to treat PTSD, for mobile platforms, and assistance to junior faculty who have mHealth ideas but no access to programmers or infrastructure to jumpstart their research.

The mHealth Collaboratory aims to get scientists, business people and the innovative-user community talking together and inspiring each other to develop disruptive new mobile health solutions. It also aims to foster a collaborative research community, support new ideas, and facilitate creative exchanges in mobile and connected health. We have a vibrant series of mobile and connected health symposia/training events, to bring together mHealth researchers across institutions to develop an mHealth Consortium, help junior researchers get their mHealth efforts off the ground, work with education programs to train in transdisciplinary science, and develop exciting relationships with industry.

Dubbed the quantified self (QS) movement, the rapid rise of self-monitoring technologies offers insights into a person’s daily life via wearable and mobile devices that can collect data on health-related behaviors and states such as exercise, sleep and stress. The mHealth Collaboratory hopes to collaborate closely with QS, and has hosted two of the Quantified Self Los Angeles (QSLA) Show & Tell Meetups, one in April and one in August. QSLA has a fairly regular meetup for people who are tracking health and wellness data and conducting their own personal investigations and research into their mental, physical and emotional health. The meetings often feature demonstrations of self-tracking projects, apps, as well as personal accounts of self-tracking and self-experimentation.

In addition, the Collaboratory hosts an ongoing Mobile Health Seminar series featuring leaders in the field. In October, the Collaboratory featured a talk by Noam Ziv, a recognized thought leader, experienced system architect and advisor to numerous startups in wireless communication and mobile healthcare fields, and is the founder and CEO of Kesembe Inc. Last month, Bob Evans, a software engineer at Google, presented a talk and demonstration of Paco: An Open D-I-Y Smartphone Platform for Behavior Experimentation for Researchers and Individuals.

Finally, the USC mHealth Collaboratory will continue supporting and conducting groundbreaking health promotion, disease prevention and healthcare research, aimed at better understanding the complex, real-time determinants of health and wellbeing. Watch this space as we continue with our exciting activities!

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