Brown holds second workshop to conceptualize equitable health tech of future

For the second time in four months, engineers at Brown convene a group of scholars and experts to examine achievable home-based technologies for the next decade.

An interdisciplinary group of experts came together at Brown University for the second in a series of Home Health Technologies in 2032 meetings to explore how emerging technologies might better support improved health and well-being without ever leaving home. Workshop 2: Healthcare Technologies in the Living Environment built on the initial virtual conference held last February, which highlighted the need for new ideas in home-health technologies. Organizers planned for this to be the second in a series of future workshops that will continue to bring together a cross pollination of stakeholders to explore the challenges and opportunities of increasing the adoption of home-based technologies.

Over the course of a day and a half in early June, working groups made of up varying stakeholders identified how in-home tech could drive paradigm shifts in healthcare, paying particular attention to solutions that would reduce the load on healthcare systems, address accessibility and equity for all populations and could realistically be translated into the home itself within ten years. Specifically, June’s workshop explored the next generation of technologies that monitor and deliver healthcare for older adults in the living environment. Attendees were made up of engineers, technologists, nurses, physicians, business executives, pharmacists, public-health professionals, students and postdoctoral research associates. 

We thought that it would be important to look specifically at the home-health technology needs of older adults since advances in this space are very much desired to improve aging in place.

Kimani Toussaint Professor and Senior Associate Dean in Brown’s School of Engineering

Kimani Toussaint, a Professor and Senior Associate Dean in Brown’s School of Engineering and a chair of the event’s organizing committee, said “We thought that it would be important to look specifically at the home-health technology needs of older adults since advances in this space are very much desired to improve aging in place.” 

Toussaint teamed up with Brown Engineering Professor Angus Kingon and the University of Rhode Island’s College of Nursing Assistant Professor Jennifer Mammen to organize the event, which included the input of steering committee members from Brown (Engineering’s Anita Shukla, Pathobiology and Laboratory Medicine Professor Edith Mathiowitz, Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health’s Megan Ranney and John Patena, Office of the Vice President for Research’s Edel Minogue and Betsy Stubblefield Loucks and Physics Ph.D. student Rutendo Jakachira), Morgan State University IoT Security Professor Kevin Kornegay, and Philips Clinical Development Scientist Shreya Divatia. 

Plenary talks were given by Illinois Professor of Sociology and African American Studies Ruby Mendenhall, Professor of Computer Science and Associate Dean at Cornell Tech Deborah Estrin, Caltech Biomedical Engineering Researcher Lihong Wang and Warren Alpert Medical School Director of Geriatrics and Palliative Care Stefan Gravenstein. The event was supported by the National Science Foundation, Brown’s School of Engineering, the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health, and the University of Rhode Island’s College of Nursing.

Jakachira, a second-year Ph.D. student of Toussaint’s, has already been working on a non-invasive method of obtaining accurate blood oxygen readings from people with darker skin. Her project to improve the accuracy of existing pulse oximeters highlights the importance of reliable and equitable health diagnostic technology, especially in the home.  With the June workshop taking place in person, the group visited URI’s Nursing Education Center on the bottom floor of the South Street Landing facility to view simulations of two different aspects of the senior-living spectrum. Actors played the parts of senior citizens with multiple chronic conditions, living alone, and also in assisted living residences. Workshop participants were encouraged to ask questions of the patients that would aid in brainstorming technology or technology platforms that could advance the health of the person. The opportunity to view from an observation room with a one-way mirror, as a clinician’s telehealth view, was also provided.

​​​​The large group of attendees was broken into multiple smaller groups, which traveled into the simulated environment, and then back to “homerooms” to further develop and streamline their ideas. They were then graphed by importance in overall health, ease of integration, and technology readiness level. ”It was very interesting to see people from different backgrounds, professions, and disciplines working together on a common problem,” said Toussaint. “I got goosebumps just watching the excitement build up as the workshop went on. People who would not otherwise be together at a conference or workshop, were in the same room, talking in the same language, and freely exchanging their unique insights and expertise. Imagine if we had more formal mechanisms that facilitated these types of interactions to spur innovation and problem solving.”      

All of these conversations set the stage for the development of early prototype integrations. Over the summer, a team of students led by Brown Professor of the Practice Ian Gonsher will begin developing the initial round of prototypes, which may explore mixed reality, artificial intelligence, blockchain, ubiquitous computing, and human computer interfaces. Generally, Gonsher said, the physical models should begin to show how these emerging technologies might reshape existing infrastructure in the healthcare space. 

Aside from seed funding for student-driven projects and the Gonsher-led integration of technology into furniture and the built environment, Toussaint and his colleagues plan to continue to explore how Brown can continue to make contributions in this area, potentially through a new research center or other initiatives.