Innovator Spotlight Q&A Series: Regina LaRocque, MD, MPH

Jan 10, 2023 | Innovator Spotlight, News

Innovator Series

The CIDH Innovator Spotlight is a Q&A series that celebrates innovative ideas, highlights the important work that digital health innovators are doing to advance patient care and outcomes at Mass General Hospital, and shares key learnings about the innovation journey.

We are pleased to feature Regina LaRocque, MD, MPH, FIDSA, a faculty member of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, for her work developing an app to track clinical symptoms travelers experience while abroad to understand better exactly where people get sick and improve the health of international travelers.

Q: Tell us about your innovation and the challenge(s) you were trying to solve. Who are the people involved?

RL: With the aim of better understanding how apps can improve the health of international travelers, my team has been developing an app to track clinical symptoms travelers experience while abroad. Through the app, willing travelers will take a daily survey answering questions about their health. The mobile device will simultaneously track geolocation so we can better understand exactly where people get sick. Not only do we want to answer our research questions, but we also want to offer a benefit for the individual using the app. We have included some non-research-related features that we hope travelers will find useful.

My team consists of computational scientists, software engineers, and data visualization designers at UMass Medical School in addition to a study nurse, myself, and collaborators at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We have worked with the Mass General Brigham Office of General Council, the Mass General Brigham Information Security and Privacy Office, and Mass General Brigham IRB.

Q: The innovation process can be long and challenging, but also rewarding. What inspired you to begin this journey?

RL: The biggest aim of our work is to improve the health of international travelers. We know mobile technology is increasingly being used as a tool for the collection of health information. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of apps to collect epidemiologic data demonstrated the utility of ‘participatory surveillance’ in improving our understanding of infectious disease dynamics. We want to apply that model to international travelers to evaluate and establish an evidence base for the use of apps to improve health outcomes.

Q: Please tell us about your overall experience and some of the major milestones you’ve achieved so far. What are the next steps?

RL: Our journey has not been easy, but we have successfully navigated through the Mass General Brigham enterprise to identify and work with the necessary groups to set our app up for success. Our collaborators at UMass Medical School doing the behind-the-scenes development have produced a product we are proud of, and we hope to have the app in the hands of users in 2023.

Q: What resources have been most helpful to you, and that you think other MGH innovators would benefit from?

RL: It was imperative that we worked with the Mass General Brigham Information Security and Privacy Office throughout the process of designing and developing the app. They provided us with many of the tools we needed and helped facilitate connections with other groups to ensure we would end up with a successful product.

Q: What advice would you give to other innovators at MGH that you wish you had been given early in your innovation journey?

RL: Diligence is key.

CIDH would like to thank Dr. LaRocque for participating in our Innovator Spotlight series and sharing valuable information with our digital health community.

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Center for Innovation in Digital HealthCare

Founded in 2018, CIDH serves as a catalyst to promote the entrepreneurial and research-minded digital health ecosystem at Massachusetts General Hospital. It provides operational and advisory support to internal innovators and outside industries seeking to collaborate on digital health initiatives.

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