Medicine & Health

ER Apps
From Fitbits to medical diagnostics

By Molly Birnbaum ’05 / July/August 2019
July 8th, 2019
Dr. Megan Ranney ’10 MPH, at her Commencement forum
Ranney is also chief research officer for the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine Photo: Jake Belcher

When most people think about digital health technology, Fitbits and weight-loss apps come to mind. But Dr. Megan Ranney ’10 MPH, speaking to a room full of largely physician-alumni as part of the 2019 Commencement weekend forums, says she thinks about possible ER advances.  Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown, says it’s in the ER that digital health technology can make a significant difference—in the lives of both patients and doctors.  

Emergency departments are the entry to the healthcare system for many Americans, Ranney says—one of the only places where care, no matter the cost, is guaranteed. It’s where doctors regularly see the underprivileged and at risk. It’s also where doctors have one of the highest rates of burnout, deal with severe lack of space and resources, and are expected to synthesize tons of information from all over the place. Digital health technology, says Ranney, will help—if done right.

This is why, five years ago, Ranney created the Emergency Digital Health Innovation program at Brown. Its mission is to use digital health technology to address the needs of acute-care patients before, during, and after a visit to the ER. A group of dedicated experts, affiliated faculty, and students work to conduct rigorous research and facilitate partnerships between doctors, researchers, and the consumer-facing industry. Ranney highlighted some of the program’s projects, including research on the use of smart glasses in emergency departments to better communicate real-time information to specialists. 

What’s next in digital health? A lot, says Ranney, from more sensitive medical smart watches to patches, from injectable technology (like pills you can swallow to track adherence to medications) to implantable technology. And Brown’s Emergency Digital Health Innovation is on it. “We’re increasing our work to get evidence to support whatever is next.” 

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