Podcast: How mobile health devices can help research, clinical care 

Spyros Kitsiou, associate professor of biomedical and health information sciences in the College of Applied Health Sciences.

The use of wearable health technology has proliferated in recent years, with many people donning smartwatches, activity trackers and other devices to collect data and motivate positive behaviors. But what is needed to take the insights from these devices from the wrist to the clinic and laboratory? 

Spyros Kitsiou, associate professor of biomedical and health information sciences in the College of Applied Health Sciences, recently joined the GovCIO program HealthCast to talk about the opportunities and challenges in this area. As director of the mHealth Innovation Lab at UIC, Kitsiou has overseen several trials of mobile health technologies and created new tools to integrate the data they collect into the laboratory and the clinic. 

On the episode, Kitsiou spoke about the excitement around devices and algorithms that can detect irregular heart rhythms, monitor an individual’s blood glucose or use AI to create interactive virtual health coaches. But he also pressed on the need for more research to verify the efficacy and safety of these technologies. 

“Sometimes it feels like we’re playing a catch-up game because by the time we establish some of this preliminary evidence, that technology has evolved and requires sometimes additional testing,” said Kitsiou, who is also associate chief research information officer in the UIC Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. “This is a critical challenge in our field, which I think underlines the need for development of new, innovative study design methods to address this challenge.” 

In one of his current trials, Kitsiou studies how consumer devices such as activity trackers, smart scales and blood pressure monitors can help patients avoid heart failure. To support this project and others like it, his group created a platform called iCardia to remotely collect data from patients in a secure and protected manner. 

These privacy considerations are critical as the use of mobile devices becomes more tightly integrated with the health care system, Kitsiou cautioned. But with careful, user-centered design that promotes both patient engagement and cybersecurity, he sees a transformative role for these technologies. 

“Mobile technologies have … transformed the social fabric of our life,” Kitsiou said. “And I think that they’re now poised to profoundly influence health care and disease management moving forward.” 

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