The goal of developing more accessible technology in health care has united two University of Calgary faculties toward achieving a common objective.
Two researchers have initiated a collaboration between the nursing and engineering fields, with a focus on leveraging technologies to optimize health and educational outcomes.
Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger, an associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing, is a health-care expert with a deep understanding of technology and expertise in user-centred design. Dr. Mohammad Moshirpour is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Software Engineering. He is a technology expert who oversees the technical development of ideas using his software-engineering practices.
Although the disciplines of these associate professors may appear quite different, there is one common goal that Duffett-Leger and Moshirpour share: a focus on augmenting existing health-care systems to be more convenient and efficient for health-care workers and the people they serve.
“We are looking at nursing and health care, as well as the different processes they have and, ultimately, we are looking for areas where technology can be used to enhance those practices,” says Moshirpour, BSc’08, BSc (Eng)’09, MSc’11, PhD’16.
Leveraging technology to optimize health outcomes
The partners’ diverse expertise and collaboration have led to the contribution of multiple funded projects (see below), with an overarching goal of developing user-friendly and cost-effective technological health-care interventions.
“Our main focus is on how we can use technologies to deliver services in a way that democratizes the health-care system, levelling the playing field so more people have access to those services in a cost-efficient way,” says Duffett-Leger, PhD, who recently received the ASTech award in Social Innovation (Technology Alberta), a first for UCalgary Nursing.
Duffett-Leger and Moshirpour work alongside a strong team on several projects in collaboration with the Brenda Strafford Foundation long-term care facilities and the O’Brien Institute’s Brenda Strafford Centre on Aging in Calgary. This team consists of nursing postdoctorate fellows, software engineering graduate trainees and other highly qualified personnel.
One of the projects, which was initiated pre-COVID-19 pandemic, focuses on using wearable technology to mitigate back injury among nurses. “We have a health-care human resources crisis, worsened by the pandemic,” says Duffett-Leger.
Another innovative project they’re working on is creating an immersive experience for people with dementia, and their families and caregivers. This is guided by “reminiscence therapy,” which taps into long-term memories by focusing on short-term memories.
“There's evidence in the research that shows, if we are able to tap into those long-term memories using old pictures or music, or anything like that would stimulate those old memories, it reduces the symptoms of dementia,” says Duffett-Leger.
Initiating the collaboration into the classroom
Both researchers provide experiential and team-based learning opportunities for their students. They received a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) grant through the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning to merge two applications. The aptly named Ignitingale platform provides a virtual environment for students from nursing and engineering to come together and create digital health solutions.
“We need to provide them with that experiential learning opportunity. That was one of the limitations we recognized during the pandemic: we don’t have a lot of tools to do this If people aren’t in the same classrooms,” says Moshirpour.
Last spring, Duffett-Leger and Moshirpour united graduate students from nursing and Schulich for a transdisciplinary hackathon where they worked on finding potential solutions to real-world health-care problems, such as developing software to improve communication between emergency medical services and emergency triage nurses, and an app to help reduce the occurrence of pressure ulcers by tracking and scheduling patients’ position changes.
The hackathon was well received as it provided students an opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary environment to develop digital health-care solutions. Duffett-Leger and Moshirpour plan to offer it again to their students in the winter term.
“We see a lot of commonalities between nursing and engineering, being very applied sciences and complementary sciences; we learn very much in the same way,” says Duffett-Leger. “The highlight for our students was having the opportunity to work together to create technological solutions for the health-care system.”
Adds Moshirpour: “I would argue that the research and learning opportunities go even further than simple job opportunities. This opens a lot of space and opportunity for innovation. This is a unique transdisciplinary training ecosystem where students are getting unique hands-on, real-world application.”
Examples of collaborative projects
Duffett-Leger and Moshirpour have assembled a team of nurses and software engineers focused on the co-design and development of digital health solutions for real-world application. The following are a few of their federal and locally funded projects:
- Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) operating grant (COVID-19: Rapid Response to Mental Health): Develop user-friendly, secure and scalable web and mobile-based applications, in collaboration with Alberta Health Services (Maternal Newborn Child & Youth Strategic Clinical Network) and community organizations, to deliver two in-home/in-clinic parenting interventions virtually to vulnerable families (VID-KIDS Virtual and ATTACH Virtual), currently being deployed in Alberta
- VPR Catalyst, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute Seedling, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Development grants: Develop an AI-enabled tool (EQUIP), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, to automate decision support for clinicians re: quality of parent-child interactions, to be deployed via VID-KIDS/ATTACH virtual platforms and stand-alone mobile application
- Alberta Labour and Immigration Supporting Psychological Health in First Responders grant: Build on the virtual platform (developed through CIHR-funded research) to tailor a virtual group-based psycho-educational program for first responders at risk for post-traumatic stress injury and their spouses; integration of learning-management system (asynchronous learning) and wearable technology (mobile applications for smartwatch and smartphone) to gather biometric (stress) data and unique data visualizations enabling users to monitor/manage personal stress levels
- Faculty of Nursing and Brenda Strafford Foundation funding: Develop virtual reality intervention for people with dementia and their family caregivers, guided by reminiscence therapy, to reduce the negative psychological and behavioural symptoms of dementia, through partnership with the Brenda Strafford Centre on Aging embedded in the O'Brien Institute for Public Health.