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Distributed Education profile: Dr. Puneet Seth's research explores technology use with older patients

Thoughts of the technology revolution in health care tend to invoke images of robotic surgical tools or complex imaging machines. But Dr. Puneet Seth, a faculty member based in Woodstock, and a team of researchers at Lawson Health Research Institute, are showing that even everyday technologies, such as mobile devices, can have a profound impact on health care.

Dr. Seth believes that the timely delivery of care to patients with mental health problems can be addressed with technology.

“In many ways, much like diabetes and obesity, mental health has been kind of a poster child for an area that could really benefit from new digital health technologies,” he said.

Dr. Seth is working on a study to determine if using an additional health care app can improve the quality and efficiency of care for both patients and care providers.

The pilot study took place in London, Ontario during 2016 and part of 2017, and used Chromebook to help keep in contact with geriatric patients living with mental illness . Patients and care providers were able to communicate outside the context of in-person visits using an application called InputHealth. This intersection of communication technologies and health care is where Dr. Seth focuses his attention.

“The majority of my research is focused on how the interaction of patients with technology can further allow them to interact with their health care team,” he explained.

Dr. Seth’s background in the technology sector prior to attending medical school makes him uniquely positioned to tackle this research topic.

“I worked in telecommunications before going to medical school, so the intersection of technology and health care has always been something of interest to me, and it’s a major part of my career as well,” he said.

With the global population of adults 60 years and older expected to double in the next 40 years, demonstrating how new technologies can be applied to seniors is more important than ever.

“This research shows that older patients don’t need to be excluded from research and application technology in this day and age. It has often been thought that technology is not somethings that is applicable to older patients or it’s not inclusive of older patients, and my research shows quite the contrary,” said Dr. Seth.

As with any research project, Dr. Seth did encounter a few challenges. Using mobile devices with a population with different levels of comfort and experience presents a few challenges.

“In this particular patient population it’s tricky because there are varying amounts of literacy with regards to using technology, so it becomes extremely important to make things simple and agile enough to be used by a broad variety of patients,” he said.

Despite these challenges, Dr. Seth and the team from Lawson feel that the pilot study was successful.

“Overall, patients did feel that the use of such technology would be able to improve communication with their health care providers, and overall they did find that the technology was user friendly,” he said.

Dr. Seth is confident that this research can demonstrate how patients can be more fluidly integrated into health care processes.

“It’s part of a larger body of research that’s happening worldwide, which is showing that much of health care can be delivered outside of episodic independent visits between a patient and a care provider, and that you can begin to develop health care relationships and therapeutic relationships that actually transcend the in-person,” said Dr. Seth. “That fundamentally represents a paradigm shift in how health care delivery really happens worldwide.”

Looking forward, Dr. Seth hopes to demonstrate that patients can be a more integrated part of the patient-care provider relationship.

“A lot of it comes down to how patients will be able to interact with the future of technology as the technology landscape changes, and how we continue to make sure that this information that we’re collecting is in fact meaningful, and something that actually improves care,” he said.

Working at multiple hospitals across southern Ontario, teaching with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and conducting research means Dr. Seth is often quite busy. Reflecting on how he defines a successful day, Dr. Seth said, “I find successful days are when I have been able to balance the need to communicate with the need to actually have protected time to think and to develop new ideas.”