At the WHRI and BCCHR we recognize that Digital Health Research and Innovation is a strategic priority for our institutes as we work towards our goals of research excellence to improve children’s’ and women’s health across BC. This field of study is broad and involves application of computing platforms, connectivity, software and sensors for health care. Examples of this include use of virtual health visits, remote patient monitoring, clinical decision support systems; development and application of artificial intelligence systems and web or mobile apps for education and self-care. One year ago, we came together to form a joint Digital Health Research Steering Committee to support a growing digital health research program across the C&W campus. It has been a fantastic first year!
As a joint initiative, our mission is to support digital health research led by C&W investigators and trainees by focusing on two priorities:
- Enabling digital health research by streamlining research and implementation processes, building capacity and providing direct project support;
- Supporting better data access for research through advocacy and partnership building across PHSA and the BC Ministry of Health.
Advancing Research: Celebrating Achievements and Leading Innovation
As we’ve worked towards these lofty goals, there are several achievements that we wish to celebrate with the research community. To advocate for better data access, members of our committee have actively engaged across PHSA and C&W in committees such as the PANDA Research Steering Committee and Data Governance Committees; C&W Digital Health Executive Steering Committee and Provincial Virtual Health Working Group. In these settings, we also advocate for research representation and engagement as provincial strategies and tools are developed, for example, the soon-to-be-released Provincial Digital Health Atlas. We have also been thought leaders in new innovation, initiating the AI in Research Working Group. The aim of this group is to enable innovation by acting as a knowledge broker as this field rapidly evolves and provide guidance on the responsible use of AI and the rapidly changing regulatory environment surrounding this technology.
To build capacity and further stimulate research projects and partnerships across our institutes, as well as with diverse clinical programs and disciplines, we have continued our digital health research seminar series, with over 100 attendees now signing into each event. Additionally, we co-hosted and planned the BC Digital Health Forum, which was sold out with 950 attendees over a week of seminars, panel discussions, and workshops. More details about the forum can be found here. Throughout the week, there were 11 short presentations delivered by researchers from WHRI, BCCHR, or UBC.
- Virtual Reality as a Potential Treatment for Individuals with Vaginal Insertion Phobia, by Lori Brotto
- TrustSphere – A Collaborative and Personalized Digital Shared Care Experience, Co-created with Patients, Families, and Clinicians by Shazhan Amed.
The significant contribution of our research community to this event demonstrated the value of digital health research in our current healthcare system.
In addition, the student poster winner, Ms. Haneen Amhaz, hailed from WHRI. Haneen’s poster presents the results of a collaborative project led by the Digital Health research team at WHRI/BCCHR, engaging patient partners, researchers, clinicians, and health systems partners to co-develop a research agenda for future perinatal digital health research. An additional outcome of the RAPID project was the publication of a downloadable toolkit for patient engagement in DHR. You can access the toolkit here.
Finally, we have supported a wide array of investigators as they’ve navigated the complex processes of digital health research and implementation in PHSA. Our work with investigators in the last year has resulted in an additional $300,000 in grant funding.
We are delighted with our progress in the first year of this joint initiative and recognize that this is just the beginning! In the year ahead, we will continue to advocate for more transparent processes across PHSA related to digital health priority setting, procurement, ethics, privacy, and security. Data access will remain a focus area as the CST project moves forward, and it’s one that must be addressed for our community to stay innovative and embrace the changing landscape of technology in healthcare.
We encourage anyone working in this space who wants to get involved in our initiative to reach out to Dr. Beth Payne, Digital Health Research Manager, to learn more about the work and support services available here.
Digital Health Accelerator Program’s Impact and Future Prospects:
Significant support for our community has come from the Digital Health Accelerator program, which completed its first funding cycle last year. In this funding program, we awarded 4 seed grants ($50,000 each), fostering new knowledge related to the impact of digital technologies in healthcare. These projects included:
- Dr. Patricia Janssen’s SmartParent project, which has engaged a total of 2,745 enrollees and completed 706 enrollment surveys, with an average of 50 new enrollments per month. Among all participants, over three-quarters always read messages, and over 95% found links to website resources useful, indicating they would recommend the program to a friend. SmartParent, along with the partner program SmartMom, is now endorsed by the Ministry of Health and available across most regional health authorities in BC.
- Dr. Tim Oberlander’s pilot study with neurotypical youth, which designed data visualizations for complex pain symptoms and found that recruitment (96%) and retention (88%) to the visualization platform were feasible within a short time (<3 months).
- Dr. Matthias Gorges, who identified four core themes of support needs and opportunities for adolescent T1D self-management, now being translated into a peer support platform.
- Dr. Kathryn Armstrong’s successful recruitment of approximately 800 patients to the WelTel platform in the cardiology clinic, with positive feedback reported by multiple patient families using clinical digital messaging. The clinical program continues to use this platform as part of standard care.
The first round of accelerator projects has yielded 8 peer-reviewed publications, 30 conference presentations, numerous media engagements, and a significant return on investment, with $4.5 raised in new grant funding for every $1 originally contributed. We are now in the middle of the second funding cycle for this program and are excited to see further success. This program is currently limited to BCCHR investigators, but we aim to expand on the success we have seen and enable projects across the WHRI in the future.