Duke Digital Health Promotes Tech-Based Health Interventions for All

Published March 31, 2015 under Research News


Gary Bennett, director of Duke Digital Health, pictured third from left, leads the Global Digital Health Sciences Center team.

Faculty and staff at the Duke Global Digital Health Science Center (Duke Digital Health), housed within the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), believe that health technologies can help people change their health behaviors for the better, regardless of their education level or income. And they specialize in designing and adapting technology-based interventions for low-income, medically vulnerable populations.

Technology Can Increase Health Access and Improve Care

All populations, including low-income, elderly and racial/ethnic minority groups, have gained access to technological tools such as mobile devices in the past decade. However, not all of them are receiving the benefits of advances in health care technology. Rather, innovative health technologies tend to be available primarily through private hospitals and universities or as high-end consumer products, making them less accessible to individuals in the poorest communities. Duke Digital Health is working to prevent a “digital health divide” by promoting access to these innovations across all populations. 

“For many people, digital health means the latest fitness wearable device or weight loss app, but digital health can do much more,” said Gary Bennett, director of Duke Digital Health and professor of global health, psychology and neuroscience. “These approaches allow us to reach remote, vulnerable and formerly disconnected populations with highly personalized, evidence-based health interventions. Our overarching aim is to reduce health disparities using digital health.” 

Center Focuses on Research, Programs and Policy

Center faculty and postdoctoral fellows focus on designing and testing digital health interventions that catalyze behavior change. Their research includes basic research, randomized controlled behavioral trials and implementation studies. Past research has focused on weight management, and planned projects include self-management of multiple chronic diseases (e.g., chronic kidney disease, hypertension and diabetes), cancer prevention and HIV/AIDS treatment. 

The Interactive Obesity Treatment Approach (iOTA) was the first Center research platform to be tested widely. iOTA is a comprehensive obesity intervention that works via text messaging, automated phone calls and apps, and integrates with care providers and health systems. Duke Digital Health has tested iOTA among adults in Boston, North Carolina and China. 

Duke Digital Health has also partnered with mHealth@Duke, founded by psychology and neurosciences professor Bernard Fuemmeler and Joe McClernon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. mHealth, or mobile health, refers to the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile and wireless devices. By providing forums for education, discussion, and exploration of funding resources, mHealth@Duke aims to accelerate research on the use of sensors and mobile technology, such as using a smartphone to monitor blood pressure. 

The Duke Digital Health team also advises and advocates for domestic and international policies that affect medically underserved populations. With the goal of extending health care technologies to all individuals regardless of socioeconomic status, Duke Digital Health provides resources, advice, and expertise to accelerate digital health science and policy.  

Duke Digital Health to Host a Series of Events in April

Duke Digital Health will host the following local events in the upcoming weeks:  

For more details about these events, visit the Duke Digital Health events webpage.

Learn More:

The overarching aim of the Global Digital Health Science Center is to reduce health disparities using digital health.

Gary Bennett, director of Duke Digital Health