Advancing health science through collaboration

Left to right: Dr. Noelle Chesley, Immaculate Apchemengich (graduate research assistant), Dr. Jake Luo, Tong Ling (graduate research assistant), Dr. W. Hobart Davies

Left to right: Dr. Noelle Chesley, Immaculate Apchemengich (graduate research assistant), Dr. Jake Luo, Tong Ling (graduate research assistant), Dr. W. Hobart Davies

UWM faculty have teamed up to create TecHealth, an initiative that aims to harness and develop regional, inter-institutional and transdisciplinary research strength to solve problems at the intersection of health and technology.

Working together as core members of TecHealth are UWM faculty Jake Luo, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Informatics and Administration, Noelle Chesley, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Sociology, and W. Hobart Davies, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychology.

TecHealth is designed to be a hub for collaboration that can bring together both experts and resources to foster innovative, research-based solutions to today’s health challenges.

Team science solutions to complex health problems

Together with a team of faculty and graduate assistants representing UWM, UW-Madison, Aurora Health Care and the Medical College of Wisconsin, Chesley, Davies and Luo have steep ambitions. They aim to build a regional, transdisciplinary scientific team that merges medical, social science and big data research approaches to better understand the role that digital technology use plays in shaping health and well-being at home, at work, at school and in medical settings.

“We draw on social science to leverage knowledge about how individual attitudes and traits, as well as larger interactional and institutional social processes, influence access to and use of digital tools and applications in ways that impact health and well-being,” said Luo. “We merge this approach with more traditional medical models and emphasize big data methods to deepen knowledge about the possible health implications of technology use in key groups and settings.”

“By our powers combined”

The TecHealth initiative engages researchers at all levels, from students in training to established experts, in order to foster stronger research aimed at improving public health.

The initiative also aims to collaborate with government and community organizations, as well as businesses, to further the goal of improved public health aided by effective technologies.

Central questions of interest to this group include:

  • How can health information best be communicated to, and understood, by key groups?
  • Do “digital divides” impact health disparities?
  • What are the implications of electronic health records (EHRs) for the doctor-patient relationship?
  • What are the reciprocal influences between technology and social interactions inside and outside the family?
  • What are the health and social implications of new big data approaches to information science?

To begin to forge more collaborative relationships within and outside of UWM, the group held a workshop in October 2017. This event brought together twenty-six researchers from several different organizations to start thinking creatively about how to leverage their collective expertise in more effective ways. The TecHealth team is currently planning a few spring events to build on the relationships forged through this inaugural workshop and to expand opportunities for new collaboration.

The TecHealth collaborative team looks forward to expanding the reach of their initiative to include more researchers with more diverse areas of expertise. “There are opportunities for both medical and social researchers with broad interests in technology and health and a desire to engage in transdisciplinary approaches in grant applications, projects, research papers, and commercial applications to join our team,” Luo said.