Healthcare system has been flooded with opportunities since the onset of social networking privileges throughout the world. It allows organisations to build connections, share discoveries, and develop credibility as thought leaders. Through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, physicians and health systems are able to share relevant health alerts, receive patient feedback, and bolster their brand with a focus on creating trust. By communicating with patients online, hospitals and physicians establish the foundation for a positive relationship. However, developers have minimum knowledge about the design of such apps which could help in acquiring maximum positive results and feedbacks.
Very less is known about how these social tools should be designed, what determines their effectiveness, and how they can connect people with others in their communities to promote nutrition and encourage physical activity on a larger scale. Andrea Parker, an assistant professor of Personal Health Informatics and Human-Computer Interaction at Northeastern University, is focused on solving these challenges.
“We’re trying to understand how technology can help reduce health disparities,” said Parker, who is among a group of faculty involved in Northeastern’s first-in-the-nation doctorate program in personal health informatics. “My research takes a human centered approach, which means I do a lot of community-based research to understand the needs, values, and priorities of a population, particularly people in low-income communities.”
Her research originates from these communities who have quite limited access to healthcare facilities and good food. She conducts focus groups and surveys to collect health-related data from individuals and then uses that data to design mobile and ubiquitous technology tools—such as touch screen applications and mobile phone software—that promote healthy diets and physical activity. It is critical, she said, that these technologies are both engaging and sustainable. Out of the many projects she is working on, one such project is in the early stages- a mobile tool that helps connect families in Boston’s low-income neighbourhoods. This tool was developed in collaboration with fellow Bouvé faculty members, Carmen Sceppa and Jessica Hoffman.
“In a way, it’s very much like a social network centered on promoting and sustaining healthy living. “Most social networking applications involve users connecting with family and friends, but far less is understood about how people connect within a neighborhood,” Parker explained. “How can we connect people together to engage in healthy behaviours? What do they need to be successful? Very often, we think of how social networks can benefit ourselves. However, I’m interested in how these tools can empower people to improve the health of others in their neighbourhoods.”
From a big picture point of view, Parker hopes to not only reduce community health disparities but also contribute to the field of computer science by exploring technology’s role in fostering healthy outcomes. By doing so, she said, “We can impact change on an even larger level.” This work could well be a significant step to initiate decreasing health issues and fast forward availability and emergency treatment of patients originating from a community-based healthcare system to a global one.