Spotlight on early-career researchers: a Neuronet interview with Alison Keogh

In this spotlight on early-career researchers interview, we speak with Alison Keogh. Alison works as a postdoctoral researcher on the public-private Mobilise-D  project at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in University College Dublin. We asked Alison about her career, research as well as about challenges & opportunities in her field.

Could you tell us about your career to date?

I completed a Degree in Physiotherapy in 2010, followed by a Masters in Sports and Exercise. I worked clinically for a number of years but began to realise that I was better suited to research. I wanted to understand how to support patients to change their behaviours more effectively and so I applied for a PhD in the area of behaviour change applied in a physiotherapy background. Following that, I saw potential to merge what I had learned from my PhD with the emerging trends in digital health tools, so I took up a post-doctoral position in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in University College Dublin. Our research group merges sports scientists, physiotherapists, engineers, software developers and data scientists to look at digital health from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working as a researcher on the Mobilise-D consortium. This Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) funded project merges industry, academic and clinical partners across Europe with the aim to develop digital mobility outcomes of real-world walking across a range of chronic conditions. My role in this project focusses on leading the Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE). Whenever a project looks to develop new outcome measures and tools, it’s critical that these measures are meaningful and important to patients. Our PPIE activities place the patient voice, experience and perspective at the front of what we do. We have both a PPIE Board and a Patient and Public Advisory Board who, together, plan, design, interpret and disseminate tasks linked to the objectives of Mobilise-D, so that we build an evidence base that is meaningful to patients.

You recently published a scientific article as part of research, funded through the Innovative Medicines Initiative’s Mobilise-D project.

What were your main findings?

Our most recent publication was a systematic review that explored the usability of wearable devices for measuring activity and walking in patient cohorts with chronic conditions. We found huge differences in how usability is reported in studies, and significantly, highlighted that unfortunately poor reporting of this concept makes it difficult to compare results across studies. Many studies on usability rely on questionnaires which have been developed by the investigators themselves. This means that there are significant differences in the aspects being measured, how it is evaluated, and how much we can take from this. Based on this we provided some recommendations to support improved reporting of usability assessments going forward.

What benefits do you see in the use of mixed methods research in the pursuit of understanding the usability of wearable devices?

Mixed methods research is the gold standard when it comes to usability. Questionnaires allow you to broadly understand a concept or how a device is perceived. They also allow you to test greater numbers of patients and, when previously validated questionnaires are used, they allow comparison between devices and cohorts. However if we need to understand patient experiences in more depth, or to explore more nuanced aspects of how a protocol or device is accepted, then interviews and focus groups provide us with a more detailed understanding. By merging the two research methods we gain a better understanding than what we would if we just used a single method of assessment.

Mobilise-D involves many academic, industry and SME partners. What has been your experience of working on such a large public-private partnership?

The Mobilise-D consortium allows us to utilise the expertise and experiences from multiple domains which is only beneficial to a research project. When academia, industry and SMEs work together, the strength of our knowledge only grows exponentially, allowing us to learn from each other, consider different perspectives and ultimately, design and implement better projects. Multi-disciplinary research such as this is a necessity in the digital health space as it is such a dynamic and quickly changing space. My experiences of it have been hugely positive and I think that more partnerships such as this are needed to rapidly develop this area further.

What do you see as the key challenges & opportunities in the field of wearable technology within healthcare?

This space has changed so much in the last number of years and its growth is only getting faster. I think the hardware and tools to measure performance are getting better and more accurate, so now the focus needs to be on how we can utilise these tools effectively to create measures that are clinically meaningful and understandable for both patients and clinicians. Cross-disciplinary partnerships are only going to strength this further, so we are heading in the right direction.

Selected publications:

Find out more about the Mobilise-D project: