Pediatrics Launches Center for Children's Digital Health Research

June 7, 2019

New technologies, communications tools, and information sources are transforming the practice of medicine and the ways that doctors and patients interact with each other—and bring with them both risks and opportunities. The ongoing measles outbreak is an example of how easily misinformation can spread via digital means and impact families’ decisions about their children’s health. But new digital tools also offer families and physicians the possibility of sharing accurate information and making informed decisions, and for scalable yet personalized tools that enable physicians to reach a large number of families at once. 

Melissa Stockwell, MD, MPH

To better understand these potential benefits and challenges Columbia has launched the Center for Children’s Digital Health Research (CDHR) under the leadership of pediatrician Melissa Stockwell, MD MPH, an authority on digital communications and health technologies. The Center will build new research partnerships at Columbia and beyond, says Dr. Stockwell. Collaborators will use the most cutting edge research to have a positive impact on child health, implement research that's been shown to be effective into clinical care, and train the next generation of digital technology researchers.

Several researchers who are exploring the potential benefits of innovative technologies have already joined forces with the CDHR. One member’s project is studying multi-level interventions that use health information technology during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood to prevent childhood obesity and chronic diseases. Another is interested the use of informatics tools and epidemiologic methods to prevent antibiotic resistance through appropriate antibiotic use, and for surveillance and prevention of infections.

Through her own research Dr. Stockwellhas pioneered the use of text messaging for vaccine reminders, community surveillance of acute respiratory illness, and to monitor “vaccine adverse events”—possible side effects—in an effort to ensure vaccine safety and timeliness. During a study of text messages reminders about the influenza vaccine, many families said they liked having that connection to their provider. “Text messaging gives us a new kind of direct communication—it’s something like a modern day house call,” Dr. Stockwell says. “These technologies are here to stay, and if we understand their potential, we can use them for the greater good.”