Removing Guess Work for Clinicians to Enable More Efficient and Effective Care for Patients: There’s an App for That


A clinician doesn’t have to guess patients’ cholesterol levels; they can do a blood test. However, clinicians can’t objectively measure patients’ level of physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep time. These measures must be self-reported without a known universal scale of what defines high or low activity and often without having tracked them. Therefore, clinicians can’t be certain if patients are meeting the guidelines set by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, making it challenging to prescribe effective treatments.

“For example, a patient may tell their care provider that they’re very active,” explains Dr. Ryan E.R. Reid. “The challenge is, without a concrete scale, patients must provide individual perceptions of what defines active, resulting in clinicians prescribing treatments based on subjective answers. My research is intended to take away some of that guess work.”

Dr. Reid, Assistant Professor in the Departments of Human Kinetics and Computer Science at St. Francis Xavier University, received a 2020/21 New Health Investigator Grant (NHIG) to explore this issue and contribute to more efficient and effective healthcare to rural Nova Scotians.

When Dr. Reid began his research project, he had limited knowledge of computer science. Since then, he has designed a digital health application that collects data on patients’ physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep time from lifestyle behaviour monitors such as Fitbits and generates a report that can be easily integrated into electronic medical records. The NHIG funded master’s students in computer science to develop the application under Dr. Reid’s supervision.

“Without this grant, without Research Nova Scotia, I definitely wouldn’t have had the ability to not only expand my knowledge of the technological component which led to my cross appointment in Computer Science, but to also understand what’s possible moving forward” says Dr. Reid.

Dr. Reid’s research showed that patients believed the data collected from Fitbits was useful and agreed that sharing this data directly with their clinicians would lead to better care. The results also indicated that although clinicians were excited about the data, they had concerns regarding resources including time, finances, technological understanding, and physical space.

“This is my first major grant as the principal investigator,” explains Dr. Reid. “My research has further demonstrated the importance of including end users in the research and taking the time to ask the right questions before you walk into a hospital or clinic throwing un-tested ideas at clinicians.”

Dr. Reid believes that this technology could lead to a shift from pharmaceutical treatment toward a lifestyle behaviour management approach.

“The technology can help clinicians with the initial patient issue,” says Dr. Reid. “We can improve patient outcomes because we know if someone is living with obesity, for example, the chances of having depression, anxiety, or cardiovascular disease are all increased dramatically. Being more active, engaging in less sedentary time, and sleeping better reduces the risk of these other diagnoses while treating the initial issue of obesity.”

Leveraging Dr. Reid’s application, a clinician could give their patient a Fitbit for a week, receive a report that would indicate whether the patient is meeting guidelines, and determine if physical activity or a different treatment option may be more effective.

The NHIG helped Dr. Reid launch his research program and acquire the resources he needed, including technology and funding for student researchers. The grant has also been a foundation for future grant applications such as Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) and Diabetes Canada.

Dr. Reid has had opportunities to make important connections across Atlantic Canada and has been invited onto other research projects by people who have been inspired by his work.

This summer, Dr. Reid will conduct another focus group with clinicians to better understand resourcing concerns. This Fall, Dr. Reid plans to introduce his new technology into virtual and in-person care settings.

“With the New Health Investigator Grant, we strive to fund early-career researchers who show promise to address provincial priorities for our health care system,” says Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia. “With direct input from end users, Dr. Reid’s application shows promise to have positive outcomes for clinicians and patients across the province.”

The New Health Investigator Grant supports early-career health researchers who are engaged in research that is focused on the efficient and effective delivery of healthcare to Nova Scotians. The grant provides up to $100,000 over two years for researchers who are within the first five years of their academic appointment in Nova Scotia or who are new to the field of health research. Funding for this grant is provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness. Learn more.