Professors explore health tech, apps
Health care has officially left the doctor’s office. Emerging health technologies are able to provide assistance to people in their everyday lives, and Towson University professors are investigating these innovations.
The School of Emerging Technologies held an event called “Health and Technology” on Friday, Oct. 25 to discuss two faculty projects: “The Perceived Credibility of Weight Management Apps/Websites” and “Context Aware Assistive Solution for People with Cognitive Disabilities.”
“The Perceived Credibility of Weight Management Apps/Websites” is being undertaken by Gerald J. Jerome, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology. Apps and websites, such as MyFitnessPal and Calorie Count, are easy to use, provide support with immediate decisions and, in the case of apps, allow for continued use after a trial period. Jerome and his students are investigating how well these technologies satisfy people’s needs.
Phase I of the project was survey-based. In total, 118 female Towson students and first responders, such as firefighters, were asked to rate what features and strategies they wanted weight management technologies to use versus what features and strategies they actually used, using a seven-point scale. Features included strong credentials, minimal frustration and expert content, whiles strategies included use of a physical activity log and social support.
For the female students, there were big discrepancies between the actual and ideal features for most categories. Furthermore, only 34 percent of participants said that websites and apps should have all 12 of the strategies listed, and 1 percent of participants used one that included all 12 strategies. The results from the first responders were almost identical.
Senior Austin Clark, the data entry coordinator for this project, noted that these results were quite surprising.
“It’s surprising that people wouldn’t want all of the different things included in a website. They are all important,” Clark said.
According to Jerome, this means that is more work to be done and many more trials to complete.
“There’s a need to create educated consumers,” Jerome said.
Phase II will consist of pilot programs to help people start managing their weight in the best way. It will use students as coaches-in-training to provide support and give recommendations for healthy living.
Clark especially hopes that Phase II of the project will have a significant effect on the first responders.
“It’ll be interesting if we can get people in this real-life scenario to lose weight because they’re blue collar, hard-working people who don’t have much time to devote to a weight loss program,” Clark said.
Upon completion, this project will hopefully create sustainable weight loss programs and transform the world of medicine. The latter is also the goal of the second project, “Context Aware Assistive Solution for People with Cognitive Disabilities.” Subrata Acharya, a professor from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, Jinjuan Feng, a professor from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, Rhonda Greenhaw, Director of the Hussman Center, Claire Holmes, a reference librarian in Cook Library, and Professor Ziying Tang from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences all had a role in coordinating this endeavor.
According to the presentation, one in 88 children have an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. Some symptoms of autism include difficulty focusing, learning new skills, and maintaining skills. Because of this, many autistic people need to rely on others to live, which inhibits their independence.
Greenhaw said, “It’s a different way of experiencing the world and your environment.”
After completing a series of observations of autistic children, faculty members from all corners of Towson’s campus decided to replace personal assistants with a mobile application.
“If we could put all this together, it’d be amazing support,” Greenhaw said.
After conducting two small user studies, the requirements of the app were determined. Some of these requirements were that the app be easy to use, affordable, have real-time automated prompts to help with current tasks, allow for interaction with mentors, and have scalable instructions based on people’s needs.
Faculty from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences designed the app using five modules, including a central decision-making module. The app uses RFID readers, or scanning devices, and sensors to transmit information between the smart phone and server. It helps with three main types of tasks: cooking, cleaning and organization, and personal hygiene.
This project has the potential to help people with other disabilities, like Down’s syndrome, and senior citizens, too. For now, it has united people across campus in a mission to serve.
“This project has created a wonderful connection between the Computer Science Department, School of Emerging Technologies, Hussman Center, and Cook Library,” Greenhaw said.