Gerontology faculty research team promotes online health software

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Members of the research team and recipents of the Beverly Miller Grant meet to discuss the project. Photo by Nick Marley/Daily Titan Photo Editor

Imagine you were injured out of state and needed to be seen by a doctor. How would the doctor know your health background if your charts are with your doctor at home?

Echo Chang, a Cal State Fullerton gerontology professor, is the head of a research project that will promote the use of the HealthVault, a free online software program that keeps track of your up-to-date health records. According to Chang, the software could be a vital tool for the elderly, primarily because it can help detect diseases before they become acute or chronic.

Chang and her research team (composed of CSUF faculty, including Engineering Professor Sang June Oh, Psychology Professor Laura Zettel-Watson and Gerontology and Sociology Professor Karen Wong) received the Beverly Miller Grant, which allows the project – appropriately titled the Beverly Miller University Assistive Technology User Research Project – to be researched on a larger scale. The project is the first of California Assistive Technology Laboratory, a new program and initiative adopted by the university to establish a collaborative research, teaching and product development center for assistive technology (devices used to help those with disabilities).

According to Chang, the project will address two needs: the need for portable, personal health records and the need to better manage chronic diseases. To do this, members of the research team will participate in a training program where they will conduct feedback from elderly with chronic conditions who use HealthVault. The research team will determine how the elderly perceive this technology, how it impacts their health and whether or not they encounter barriers when using the HealthVault.

“There are so many things (our research team) can do to make an impact on people’s lives,” Chang said. “In short term, assistive technology can help people optimize their functions, broaden their social connection and enhance their life quality. In long term, it can help one to age the best as one can be, delay disability, avoid institutionalization and prevent premature death.”

Doctors aren’t the only ones who can update health records on HealthVault. Patients can update their charts by using a USB cord to upload their vitals, weight and other statistics that they can determine using proper external devices in the comfort of their own homes. This eliminates the hassle of patients constantly visiting the doctor to determine these statistics and, more importantly, allows doctors to potentially detect early signs of diseases if patients constantly update their health records.
“These assistive devices are becoming increasingly available. To see technology become available to seniors that are interested in health maintenance is a natural transition towards preventative care,” Wong said.

Patients’ accounts and health records on HealthVault can only be seen by the patient and anyone else the patient allows access to, like doctors and family members who act as caretakers.

Chang and her team are currently writing their proposal, which addresses the two needs. They will formally begin the one-year project in the fall.

“This is an exciting time for me,” Chang said. “This research gives me the opportunity to work with many talented and passionate colleagues across different colleges, and (will help) assistive technology (continue) to get attention from government and private sectors.”

According to CSUF faculty, the project will also bring recognition to the school.

“The project will create a unique niche at Cal State Fullerton. Cal State Fullerton can become a leader in addressing successful aging issues from a multidisciplinary perspective,” said Joseph Weber, department chair of gerontology. “This perspective will also create links and cooperative networks with community social service agencies, businesses and corporations.”

Chang completed her Ph.D. at University of Southern California in 2008, and discovered through research conducted for her dissertation that the caregiver pool is shrinking.

“Thirty percent of baby boomers will have no spouse or adult child as their caregiver when they are in need. Assistive technology can play an important role in supplementing personal care, keeping us independent longer in the community,” Chang said.

Baby boomers, the large population of people born from 1943-1960, are beginning to enter life’s later stages. According to Chang, six out of 10 baby boomers have chronic diseases and will need to be cared for over the next 30 years. Because of this, research needs to focus on how baby boomers affect society, Chang said.

“Many people are crunched between (their immediate families) and raising kids, so they cannot focus on caretaking (for older family members),” Chang said. “But this should not be a one person or family issue. It is a social issue and needs to be recognized as one.”

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2 commentsOn Gerontology faculty research team promotes online health software

  • Jonathan Blitzer, MD

    Very nice writing, a completely different tone from the perky pieces you have been writing on less serious subjects. Crisp reportage, with background info. A good job.
    But what I want to know is…
    Why, if this technology is good for everyone, will it only get attention if it is good for a specific group? And I don’t mean attention from journalists; I mean funding, voter interest, etc.

  • Echo Chang, PhD

    You are right that good technology should be ageless. The purpose of assistive technology is to assist us conduct our life easier, therefore, should be useful to everyone. My yound students, after trying out some assistive devices, actually were relunctant to give them up. :-)At CSUF we focus on assistive technology for aging well, simply because there are a higher prevalent rate of elders who have chronic diseases and functional difficulty, both may impede their wish to live independently in their homes.

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