5 Ways Technology Transformed Research
Technology’s rise within the past decade has been unprecedented. The introduction of tablet computing, online social channels, and now wearable devices has retooled how we address our daily work lives and our health.
But has technology brought change to research? Are the Seahawks going to the SuperBowl two years in a row? (Note: the answer is “yes”). Here are five technology advancements that have greatly impacted researchers, some more recent and some easily overlooked as revolutionary. The results are transforming the process, global reach, and influence of health research.
With the aid of search engines, online publications, and advanced search options, we can bid adieu to the grueling search for physical information in libraries, periodicals, or massive data files. Researchers are now able to access a sea of information, including the most recent findings, to support their own research. At the same time, this new research can provide evidence against their claims, forcing them to push the conversation around their topic further. This trove of online resources accelerates the rate of research at any level.
Patients also benefit from increased access to the most up-to-date information. In 2012, according to a Pew Research survey, 72% of adult internet users say they have searched online for information about a range of health issues, the most popular being specific diseases and treatments. Similarly, online communities, such as PatientsLikeMe, provide a health data-sharing platform, that allows patients, caregivers and researchers the ability to connect online.
REACH & ENGAGE
Social media channels, online advertisements, remote data collection and more allow researchers to easily reach a wider population of diverse demographics to include in their sample. They are no longer confined to their immediate local participant pools (e.g. university community, hospital patients). Case in point, a recent study by researchers at the University of Washington used online social media channels to reach over a thousand lesbian and bisexual women participants across the United States. There are few barriers left.
Likewise, technology gives the ability to communicate with these participants in a manner that is suitable for them – via any language, any medium (e.g. email or phone), at any time, across the globe. With the help of tools such as audio computed assisted self-interview (ACASI), computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and video, researchers can easily engage participants. These tools combat barriers to quality data, including illiteracy, inconsistent survey delivery and concerns about privacy.
What if you could view your research or lab results, patient or participant data, and more all in one place? Can you finally do away with your worn out filing cabinet? With technology, all of the previously mentioned data can be collected and stored in one central database. Cloud-based systems make data easy to access and view, without deploying technical resources. The need to print physical copies or mail information to participants no longer exists. Eliminating paper-based studies and low-tech coordination creates greater efficiency, while also reducing costs and environmental waste. It’s a win all around.
Scouring through every statistic, record, or piece of data can be grueling and time-consuming. Analysis programs and applications, like IBM’s SPSS, have dramatically reduced human error and the time cost of calculating statistics. Likewise analytic tools, such as Tableau, make it possible to analyze and view study results that are accurate, visually clean and easy to digest. Data from your study is now easier and quicker to analyze.
Prior to mobile technologies and WiFi, researchers were limited to capturing participant data and providing interventions at certain time points and settings. Now, alerts can be sent to participants at varying times to respond to questionnaires and/or input study-specific metrics. For example, researchers at the University of Kansas found that immediate obesity prevention through mobile technology led to a decrease in the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed by a group of adolescent girls. This availability of more in-depth data points lead to insights that further our understanding of diseases and conditions affecting millions of lives.
Innovations in the five areas listed above all have the power to make research quicker, easier, more accurate, personalized, and cost-effective. How have you leveraged technology to improve your research? Let us know in the comment section below.