What do Marines trying to make it through boot camp and senior citizens trying to make it to a doctor’s appointment have in common? They both can benefit from digital health tools, according to digital innovators at the 12th Annual Body Computing Conference, hosted by the USC Center for Body Computing (CBC) on Sept. 28. Highlights from two landmark studies — one looking at the use of wearable sensors for military training and another examining the impact of free ridesharing for seniors — were presented at the conference, along with new recommendations on how to protect digital health data.

“Organizations need to make a commitment to digital health care and to align their cultures accordingly,” Leslie Saxon, MD, founder and executive director of the CBC, said in opening remarks at the conference. “It requires cultural change to commit to designing products that put individuals’ needs first and that are flexible enough to cover them 24/7.”


How tech can measure Marines’ success

The Marine Corps Basic Reconnaissance Course, a grueling, 120-day training program rife with physical and mental challenges, is notorious for its high dropout rate, which hovers around 80 percent. An ambitious study led by the CBC is looking to digital health tools to identify what personal traits determine whether a Marine makes it through. Using Apple watches and smartphone apps, the CBC’s research team collected continuous physiological, behavioral and psychological data as trainees attempted to pass the reconnaissance course at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Preliminary results showed that Marines who dropped out for safety reasons appeared to be less physically fit, while successful trainees remained optimistic throughout their training despite significant physical strain.


Seniors get a health boost from a ridesharing app

For senior citizens, a lack of transportation can be a barrier to receiving the medical care they need. Solving this health disparity is the goal of a CBC study sponsored by the AARP Foundation that connects senior citizens with free Lyft rides around Los Angeles. Preliminary data showed that the majority of seniors who used the ridesharing service reported a significant increase in the frequency of medical and social visits. Seniors who wore Fitbits during the study also had a significant increase in the number of daily steps.


Protecting digital data from cybersecurity threats

Digital health cybersecurity took the spotlight when Saxon, who is a member of the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development’s Health IT Advisory Board, presented the board’s recommendations on how to safeguard digital health data. The board’s white paper, “Cybersecurity in Healthcare: How California Business Can Lead,” is a first step toward establishing cybersecurity best practices within the state to prevent potential exploitation of digital health care data. Suggestions included training workforces in cybersecurity, educating patients about cyber literacy and developing standards for the ethical use of medical information.

— Erica Rheinschild