Leveraging Interdisciplinary Education Toward Securing the Future of Connected Health Research in Europe: Qualitative Study

Chouvarda, Ioanna, Mountford, Nicola, Trajkovik, Vladimir, Loncar-Turukalo, Tatjana and Cusack, Tara (2019) Leveraging Interdisciplinary Education Toward Securing the Future of Connected Health Research in Europe: Qualitative Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21 (11). e14020. ISSN 1438-8871



Connected health (CH) technologies have resulted in a paradigm shift, moving health care steadily toward a more patient-centered delivery approach. CH requires a broad range of disciplinary expertise from across the spectrum to work in a cohesive and productive way. Building this interdisciplinary relationship at an earlier stage of career development may nurture and accelerate the CH developments and innovations required for future health care.

This study aimed to explore the perceptions of interdisciplinary CH researchers regarding the design and delivery of an interdisciplinary education (IDE) module for disciplines currently engaged in CH research (engineers, computer scientists, health care practitioners, and policy makers). This study also investigated whether this module should be delivered as a taught component of an undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral program to facilitate the development of interdisciplinary learning.

A qualitative, cross-institutional, multistage research approach was adopted, which involved a background study of fundamental concepts, individual interviews with CH researchers in Greece (n=9), and two structured group feedback sessions with CH researchers in Ireland (n=10/16). Thematic analysis was used to identify the themes emerging from the interviews and structured group feedback sessions.

A total of two sets of findings emerged from the data. In the first instance, challenges to interdisciplinary work were identified, including communication challenges, divergent awareness of state-of-the-art CH technologies across disciplines, and cultural resistance to interdisciplinarity. The second set of findings were related to the design for interdisciplinarity. In this regard, the need to link research and education with real-world practice emerged as a key design concern. Positioning within the program context was also considered to be important with a need to balance early intervention to embed integration with later repeat interventions that maximize opportunities to share skills and experiences.

The authors raise and address challenges to interdisciplinary program design for CH based on an abductive approach combining interdisciplinary and interprofessional education literature and the collection of qualitative data. This recipe approach for interdisciplinary design offers guidelines for policy makers, educators, and innovators in the CH space. Gaining insight from CH researchers regarding the development of an IDE module has offered the designers a novel insight regarding the curriculum, timing, delivery, and potential challenges that may be encountered.

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