Duke to Use mHealth Wearables to Help Freshmen Improve Health

Duke University will be arming incoming freshmen with smartwatches next year in an mHealth program that aims to improve student health outcomes.

The WearDuke program, developed by Geoff Ginsburg, a professor of medicine, and Susanne Haga, an associate professor of medicine, both with Duke's Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine, will use the wearables to track new students’ sleep and activity.

“We will initially be focusing on sleep because sleep is very well documented (as something) college students don’t get enough of,” Haga said in a story supplied by the university. “And it’s important to health, mental well-being and academic performance.”

Duke has long been at the forefront of mHealth and connected health innovation. In 2016, Dr. Ricky Bloomfield, the university’s Director of Mobile Strategy and a popular speaker on the mHealth conference circuit, was hired by Apple, the company with whom he’d partnered on several HealthKit and ResearchKit studies, to become their Clinical Health and Informatics Lead.

More recently, the university’s Clinical Research Institute teamed up with Cerner to develop an mHealth app designed to help clinicians determine whether their patients were at an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Ginsburg and Haga are choosing from wearables developed by Fitbit, Garmin, Apple and Polar for the three-year program. During the first year, they’ll be working on a companion mHealth app that would enable students to track their own health and answer surveys.

Ginsburg and Haga plan to expand the program during the second year to include personalized health and wellness recommendations, such as advice for getting more sleep or resources for reducing stress.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to sustain that,” Haga added. We would ideally, with support, be able to continue to offer this as long as students are receptive and interested in it.”

With its new program, Duke joins a growing number of institutions, including healthcare providers and health plans, looking to use wearables in remote monitoring programs targeting health and wellness. Among them are UnitedHealthCare, which recently announced it would enable members to get free Apple Watches is they met certain fitness goals.

At the University of Michigan, meanwhile, researchers are using Fitbits and other mHealth tools to track the daily lives of medical school interns. The project, expected to last more than a decade, aims to track and analyze the causes of stress and depression and develop came management programs to improve health and wellness.

Originally published in mHeath Intelligence by Eric Wicklund on November 11, 2018