by Johanna Mischke

November 7, 2017

Dr. Ruth De Souza on Wearable Technology!

WT | Wearable Technologies Australia (WTA) spoke to Dr. Ruth De Souza, Stream Leader, Research, Policy and Evaluation, Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, North Richmond Community Health about the future of the wearable tech industry and some of the challenges the industry is facing.

WTA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey within the wearable technology space

RDS: I am a nurse, educator and researcher by background and currently work in a unit called the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health at North Richmond Community Health Centre in Melbourne. I came from Monash University to this role with an interest in translating research into practice. I was really interested in doing research in the community and being based there, so that there wasn’t such a big lag between research and knowledge implementation. Wearable tech seemed a good area to explore in a community setting where there is a high percentage of overseas-born residents (38%). Many speak a language other than English at home which has an impact on health literacy. I have been working with colleagues at the University of Melbourne and Paper Giant using “design probes” to engage women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds in discussions about health tracking and wearable health technologies in the context of pregnancy and parenting. We started with a stakeholder forum where we explored the research issues around wearable tech and cultural diversity to develop an agenda. More recently with the the University of Melbourne we have conducted a health self-tracking week where we provided daily community education sessions on a range of topics including diabetes and nutrition and self-tracking. Before the end of the year we will be following up with interviews with trackers and asking them about the barriers and enablers to self-tracking.

WTA: Wearable Tech is the next big thing now. Where do you see the industry heading in the next 5 years?

RDS:I am interested in what changes need to be made in health care systems to really maximise the benefits of Wearable Tech. What kinds of educational preparation will the future health workforce need? How will health workers need to modify their roles from being traditional gate-keepers of information in light of the democratisation of information access? What skills will they need to support patients who are activated, motivated and informed? How will health care systems need to change so they can really make the most of patient generated health data? How will workflows and practices change in order to accommodate the new models of care that are emerging with wearable tech?

WTA: According to your expertise in the wearables space which industry do you think will be impacted most by wearable technologies in the next few years

RDS: Technology is moving faster than the health care and education industries. In order to realise the benefits of advances in wearable tech, it’s going to be crucial for the health care workforce to be well prepared educationally and to develop digital literacies both at the undergraduate level and then in terms of continuing education and training. There’s going to have to be a huge shift not just in terms of knowledge and skills, but also in terms of understanding how to be more collaborative in health care.

WTA: Do you think personal IoT has a sustainable future? Will people need more than one platform to handle all their wearable devices?

RDS: I think interoperability is a big issue. Merely generating personal health data without the capacity to have it integrated into your health care means that the potential benefits may not be realised. For this our current models of care and institutional systems need to become more agile and nimble. Many health workers are sceptical about the benefits of wearable technology and concerned about who gets to benefit from the aggregation of health data. They need reassurance about the ethical treatment of data.

WTA: What do you think is the biggest challenge within the wearable technology industry?

RDS: I think the biggest challenge is how wearable technologies can work for people who are marginalised. Working in community health as a researcher I am interested in what wearable self tracking devices mean for people who don’t fit the wealthy, worried, well and white demographic, that typically wearables are marketed to. There is an urgent need to bring people and communities into processes of information handling that are more transparent and accountable. Health workers adhere to codes of conduct and have a duty of care, I’d like to see the developers of technologies engage in more careful scrutiny and have more transparency about the uses of data. I think also that if wearable tech is to be democratised and benefit everyone then communities who are wary of surveillance must have greater control of their data and personal health information.

Meet Dr. De Souza at our WT | Wearable Technologies Conference 2017 Australia this December. See the full program here.