UNE launches interdisciplinary center dedicated to engagement and research in digital health

Fitbits that track our steps and sleep patterns, Apple Watches that remind us when to stand up and get outside, and smartphone applications to track our health records at the touch of an icon – they are just a few examples of the ways technology increasingly plays a role in our personal health.

As these technologies continue to emerge, the University of New England (UNE) has established a center to study them and integrate them into teaching and learning. The Center for Excellence in Digital Health (CEDH) aims to engage existing and future clinicians in utilizing these digital health assets to improve outcomes for patients, providers, and institutions in Maine and beyond.

Establishment of the center positions UNE as a leader in the burgeoning field of digital health, which incorporates computer science, health science, and technology to improve health care quality and personalized care. In addition to wearable devices, examples of digital health include telehealth and telemedicine, artificial intelligence, electronic health records and patient portals, and other hardware and software services to enhance health care delivery.

The Center for Excellence aims to support the incorporation of technology into the University’s health professions curricula and emerged from work completed over the previous year to develop common student learning outcomes in digital health. Through partnerships with faculty, staff, industry, and external academic institutions, the center also serves as a hub for collaborative research and community outreach activities.

Under the leadership of Founding Director Nan M. Solomons, Ph.D., assistant director of the UNE Online Health Informatics program, and reporting to the Office of the Provost, the center draws an interprofessional affiliation of health professions experts from across the University.

“Technology permeates all health care disciplines. This work is about utilizing the best, appropriate technologies and working across boundaries to improve patient health outcomes,” said Solomons, a former data analyst and program evaluator for the MaineHealth Center for Quality and Safety.

Digital health technologies have proven to be critical in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as visits to health care providers are more routinely held via video conferencing.

“It is clear now, more than ever, the importance of access to high-quality, consistent health care. This new Center for Excellence will reinforce that need by training students to leverage emerging technologies to provide patients with the best care possible,” said UNE President James Herbert. “We have always made it our mission to train health professionals using a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach, and this new center is just one example of the many ways UNE is doing that.”

The new center fulfills several goals outlined in UNE’s “Our World, Our Future” Strategic Plan, which specifically calls for establishing UNE as an innovator in sustaining the health of people and communities, by forming an interdisciplinary team for teaching and scholarship that addresses regional issues of importance. Such issues include meeting the health care needs of underserved communities throughout the Northeast and beyond.

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