UCSF Digital Health Sciences Virtual Core
An Open mHealth-compatible Rapid Development Platform & Services
Problem Digital and connected health technologies promise to reduce health care costs and improve health outcomes. Many CTSA researchers have digital health ideas they want to pursue and test, but their institutions are not able to fully provide the resources and expertise they need to build initial prototypes and/or to conduct clinical research using digital technologies.
Solution: The UCSF Digital Health Sciences Virtual Core
The Virtual Core will be a joint effort of CTSI and the Center for Digital Health Innovation (CDHI) to provide “one-stop shopping” for researchers to quickly develop, prototype, field test, and evaluate digital health technologies. The novel technical approach that can be scaled across CTSAs and beyond is to exploit Open mHealth, an emerging standard for integrating mobile apps and data, and to build open source Open mHealth-compatible modules for clinical research. The Core will offer 3 major services on a recharge basis to UCSF, participating CTSAs, and other partners:
- Rapid Development Services – CDHI is currently choosing a rapid development platform, any of which can be “future-proofed” through use of Open mHealth and other standards. Researchers will work with UCSF developers to script user interaction (e.g., data capture screens, account setup, informed consent, protocol set-up (e.g., n-of-1), reminders, etc.). Development will leverage shared APIs and modules from the growing Open mHealth community, which includes companies (e.g., Qualcomm Life, Ginger.io), health systems (e.g., Kaiser), research centers (e.g., NSF-funded Calit2), and innovation projects (e.g., XPrize). This community is building open APIs to commercial data clouds (e.g., Jawbone, RunKeeper). Use of Open mHealth and other shared code will thus reduce unnecessary duplication while promoting reuse and rapid innovation.
- Hosting Services -- UCSF will host the development platform, server, and secure data store with full access control privileges for UCSF and external users. Partners may also host their own data store, platform, and/or server depending on local needs while still benefiting from shared software.
- Consultation, Grants, and Resources – The Core will partner with campus entities and other CTSAs to coordinate: 1) technical, design, and methodological consultation services; 2) pilot grants to UCSF researchers under the RAP and T1 Catalyst mechanisms; 3) recruitment assistance and opportunities (e.g., with SF HIP); and 4) streamlined processes (e.g., IRB templates, industry MOUs).
Partners: Potential UCSF partners include QB3, ITA, ISU, and many others. CTSA interest includes UC Davis (on participatory research and business processes), USC, and Cornell (they are hosting their own platform). Industry interest includes Ginger.io, and J&J, (which could link with the Clinical Trials Consortium). Connections to Qualcomm, Intel, etc. open opportunities around devices. From the community, Quantified Self is interested in collaborating around “citizen science,” which could involve SFHIP as well. While UCSF will lead the development of software and methods for core clinical research needs (e.g., recruitment, informed consent, n-of-1 studies, standardized variables, connection to EHRs), other partners can develop their own areas of expertise by contributing or curating open source code or research methods (e.g., mental health, health disparities, longitudinal studies, etc.). By design, this effort can be scaled across additional partners nationally and internationally (e.g., for global health).
Innovation: This proposal is unique in developing and disseminating reusable modules for digital health and clinical research while tapping into open resources from across the mHealth ecosystem. Northwestern’s Purple Robot also offers a scripting and sensor data acquisition platform, but is Android only and is a closed solution that does not ensure integrated mHealth solutions.
Projected Impact: UCSF will establish clear leadership in the digital health sciences. It will likely lead to new academic-industry collaborations, and will increase the innovation and output of researchers across CTSAs. Finally, through Open mHealth, the resulting software, methodologies, and best practices will reach beyond academia to maximize CTSA’s and NIH‘s ultimate impact on human health.
 Open mHealth is a non-profit funded by RWJF and co-founded by Ida Sim, UCSF CTSI’s Co-Director of Biomedical Informatics.
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