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My dissertation chairman is also chairman of the Universities Institutional Review Board (IRB), which oversees academic research with potential impacts on human subjects. This is a distilled definition of what an IRB oversees, but to many in the mHealth academic community, IRBs may quickly become the arbiters of the many questions plaguing the mHealth ecosystem. Some of my fellow friends and researchers over at Southern Fried Scientist are also contemplating the impacts of the cross pollination between traditional "hard" science and the social sciences. The confulence of these research methodologies is begining to stir discussion among the research community. I couldn't help but wonder if our IRB was really mHealth-ready?
Mobile devices represent an amazing opportunity for researchers to combine evidence-based medicine, from an ever-growing array of devices, with an intimate perspective on human behavior. Apps can record how long and how a user interacts with a platform, and researchers should be aware of the role of IRBs in shaping future research efforts in the mHealth space.
The IOM evaluated the role of IRBs in 2000 with a study titled Protecting Data Privacy in Health Services Research. The report highlighted an issue that may impact the direction of mHealth, going so far as to state, "The sense of the committee is that the local IRB system is strong and fully capable of reviewing HSR for privacy and confidentiality issues" and the need to understand "specialty issues" with how IRBs disseminate best practices.
I'm sure that there are a number of geographically located IRBs that truly understand the nuanced approach to research and the complicating factors involved with how mHealth and mobile enabled research is achieved/delivered.
In doing some background research (well, OK, I Googled "IRB mHealth") I found a lot of information on IRBs but not very much on how IRBs are addressing some of the challenges presented by mHealth and applications of mHealth in Health Services Research. There was one site that had both "mhealth" and "IRB" in the search string - not surprisingly, it was a blog post from Dr. Audie Atienza from the Department of Health and Human Services, citing the need to widely disseminate best practices and source lessons learned from other sectors.
I can only reiterate that there is an impending challenge facing both academia and IRBs. Is your IRB ready? If so, please feel free to comment below or share via Twitter, mentioning #mhimss or #mhealthIRB.
Tom Martin is the manager of mHIMSS and a doctoral student at the University of Delaware School of Public Policy and Administration. His research is focused on the adoption of technology, the use of incentives, and the valuation of public goods. For more information on how to engage via mHIMSS, visit the "About Us" page or email email@example.com.
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