Bringing Precision Health Technology to Duke Students

Friday, March 30, 2018
By Alissa Kocer

In his first address at the Duke student convocation, President Vincent Price highlighted the importance of adequate sleep both for overall well-being and academic performance. However, 35 percent of adults report getting fewer than seven hours of sleep a day, and up to 70 percent of college students report inadequate sleep. Sleep deprivation poses significant health risks and consequences, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high body mass index (BMI) and obesity, issues with mental health and well-being, and poor academic performance.

Susanne Haga and Geoff Ginsburg have been awarded a Duke Collaboratory grant, one of three grant opportunities for faculty and student support as part of Together Duke, in population health funded by the Provost’s Office, School of Medicine and Duke Health for a campus precision health initiative. In collaboration with Duke Student Life, DuWell, Office of Student Affairs, Duke Mobile App Gateway, School of Medicine, School of Nursing and Sanford School of Public Policy, Haga and Ginsburg will lead the development of a campus initiative to promote healthy living through student engagement with wearable digital health technologies and novel learning opportunities.

The Duke Campus Precision Health Initiative aims to foster a campus culture that promotes healthy lifestyles. Participants will receive a wearable to monitor their health behaviors, learn the risks associated with unhealthy behavior, and, if needed, discover ways to adjust their behavior to mitigate those risks. “As technology continues to grow and evolve,” Dr. Haga said, “this initiative will give students an opportunity to learn and utilize these tools to connect with other healthy living interventions across campus.” To begin to achieve this goal, the team will launch two pilot projects following a year-long planning phase.

In the first pilot project, incoming first-year students living in the Gilbert-Addoms residency hall will have the opportunity to participate. The team will assess the feasibility and acceptance of wearables to measure and track health behavior. Students will complete detailed surveys at the start of each semester and short surveys each week to gather information about the week’s activities and special events. Participants will also have the option to establish sleep goals and access tips to achieve these goals as well.

In the second pilot project, the team will expand participation to two first-year residency halls. They will continue to monitor sleep behavior and will evaluate the effectiveness and use of several educational interventions, such as workshops, in-person and/or online guest speakers and healthy tips sent via text message.

Sarah BondThis summer, Sarah Bond (Class of 2021), is working closely with Dr. Haga, to develop the pilot protocol, including selection of the surveys, timing, incentives, and choice of wearables.  Sarah will be a member of the 2018-19 Bass team that will work on gathering student feedback about the draft plans for the pilot studies and help to frame the initiative to be student-friendly, identify and address student concerns, and develop the companion app.

The research team will establish faculty and student advisory committees to plan and oversee the pilot studies. Both committees will work together to develop the pilot projects that will lay the groundwork to expand the initiative to an entire incoming first-year class. Along with promoting healthy behaviors, future plans include providing opportunities to conduct research with anonymized datasets, providing students with a real-world dataset to gain skills in research and data analysis.

This effort can expand beyond sleep behavior to exercise, diet and other areas. “We believe this initiative will have both short- and long-term implications for our students in facilitating healthy behaviors that will optimize overall well-being at Duke and post-Duke,” Haga said.


New grants will advance collaborative research by 11 groups of Duke faculty