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LISTEN: How digital devices play a role in screening patients for disease

Can digital devices improve patient care and enhance understanding of disease? The potential is great, according to a Voices of UMassMed podcast with David McManus, MD, the Dr. Marcellette G. Williams Distinguished Scholar, and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and population & quantitative health sciences. Dr. McManus is committed to researching the best ways to integrate mobile devices into clinical practice.

“[People are] buying these devices, they’re interested in using them to inform their workouts, their sleep, their behaviors. It would be foolish for us in medicine to not try to take advantage of the interest if it helps inform better treatment,” he said.

McManus discusses various research projects he’s working on, including the Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal (RURAL) Cohort Study. RURAL was inspired by the Framingham Heart Study to examine rural health communities in the southern part of the United States to find out why people have more diseases and ultimately live shorter lives.

“Mobile data can complement the data that’s traditionally obtained by a written survey,” said McManus, who is the primary investigator of the mobile health aspect of the study, along with Jomol Mathew, PhD, assistant professor of population & quantitative health sciences and chief research informatics officer. They have designed a mobile platform to marry data from wearable wrist-based devices that will be combined with participant surveys for analysis.

“We can see how you’re sleeping, we can see how active you are, we can see how your heart is behaving in terms of heart rate variability from commercially-available wearable devices. When complemented by some ‘in the moment’ surveys, including some things that you might not feel as comfortable talking about in front of another person, like how much did you drink today of alcohol?” he said.

McManus also provides details into how a digital device has proven to be a valuable screening tool for a very common heart rhythm problem called atrial fibrillation, or AFib. It affects an estimated 6 million Americans, but unfortunately, about 1 million people don’t know they have it, because it’s conventionally diagnosed by an EKG in the doctor’s office, McManus explained.

“When it’s diagnosed early, I can make AFib like grey hairs—something that you may not want to have that’s associated with getting older, but it isn’t going kill you. In contrast, AFib that’s untreated and undiagnosed can . . . lead to a decline in health and quality of life,” he said.

To learn about how digital technology is being used to detect AFib, and other research projects at UMMS, visit the Voices of UMassMed podcast page:

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David McManus developing mobile health component for RURAL health study of disease risk factors