The use of mobile technologies to rapidly and accurately assess and modify behavior, biological states and contextual variables has great potential to transform medical research and patient care. Recent advances in mobile technologies and the ubiquitous nature of these technologies in daily life (e.g., smart phones, biosensors) are creating opportunities for research applications that were not possible just a few years ago (e.g., simultaneously assessing behavioral, physiological, and psychological states in the real world and intervening in real-time). Importantly, much of the work being done in mHealth arises from siloed disciplines that focus on the creation of high end products with little reference to previous research in health or behavior or potential application in actual healthcare settings. Furthermore, it often lacks input from relevant advances in computing and engineering. Such products run the risk of being irrelevant to research or healthcare and having minimal uptake by end users. The growing gap between the mHealth product world and the world of health and technology research constitutes a missed opportunity for current health researchers and providers to add mHealth products to their repertoire and transform healthcare delivery.
This gap between technology development and health research can be reduced by conducting cross-training between early investigators in these fields. Bringing these groups together will allow for collaboration and cross-fertilization that is unlikely within other discipline or trade-specific venues.
To address these issues, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) conducts an annual mHealth Training Institute (mHTI). The week-long immersion program provides 30 selected participants with a core educational grounding in mHealth perspectives and methodologies and helps inculcate the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills and attitudes necessary for transdisciplinary collaborations. The UCLA mHTIs derive from the synergic efforts of a core group of academic, industry and NIH thought leaders with mHealth training priors and a deep commitment to educating the next generation of transdisciplinary mHealth researchers. Distinctive elements of the UCLA mHTIs include:
- Problem-based, team-science projects that build on the didactic core and allow trainees from disparate disciplines to apply their expertise jointly to a speciﬁc behavioral health problem.
- Multi-mentoring of each team by experienced mentors grounded in different disciplines.
- “Real-world” input from industry experts on mHealth product development lifecycles.
- A virtual collaborative platform (mHealthHUB) to sustain synergistic interactions and research networks between mHTI graduates and help them develop transdisciplinary mHealth solutions.
Daily didactic sessions are structured as blended-learning exercises and target the major cross-cutting research issues. Talks by mHealth and Big Data thought-leaders are augmented by small, interdisciplinary team projects adapting cutting edge mHealth technologies and approaches to address major health problems.
The main goal of the mHealth Training Institute is to develop technologists and clinical investigators with the multidisciplinary skills needed to generate high-quality mHealth research and solutions. These skills include working in interdisciplinary teams that value inputs from both the health sector and technology worlds. By intent, the facilitated interactions and collaborations between participants from different disciplines seek to foster the unified insights and nimbleness of thought that will take mHealth ideas and approaches to the next level and lead to novel and effective clinical solutions to complex health problems. Participants with leave the Institute with a broad-based exposure to the various facets of mobile technology enabled healthcare experience as well as experience in creating mHealth solutions in an interdisciplinary setting.