TEMPHEALTH - Digital Technologies to Monitor and Promote Sustainable Health Behaviours

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The rapid increase in the burden of chronic conditions and their comorbidities has created significant challenges for health care systems across the globe. Many of these conditions, such as heart failure, require patients to adjust their behaviours in the medium to long-term, including adopting new exercise regimens, healthy eating, medication administrations, and regular medical check-ups. It is estimated that 511,000 Australians are currently living with heart failure, and 67,000 people develop this condition each year, resulting in AUD$3.1 billion in health costs per year in Australia alone. Despite significant advances in treatment, approximately three-quarters of Australians with a first admission for heart failure are readmitted to hospital within one year, and one-third die during that period, mostly due to discontinuity and lack of post-acute care. Digital technologies can help monitor individuals’ health states and behaviours. They can track, educate, and trigger reminders for interventions. As the use of smart devices and the Internet approaches ubiquity, there is a unique research opportunity to demonstrate how digital technologies can be used to address and overcome barriers to the development of health-supportive behaviours to improve global health outcomes. Successful candidates will investigate how technologies can be built and integrated at scale to improve health outcomes.

At the University of Melbourne, the work will be embedded in the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) group, which is made up of a dynamic group of researchers working on Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp), User Experience (UX), and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). We are fascinated by issues arising from humans interacting with emerging technologies. What influences our experience of information and communication technology? How might we ensure that information technology is usable, useful and satisfying to use? The HCI group explores these and other questions by studying the design and use of digital technologies by people. Our research methods are human-centric, focusing on technology-in-use by people, either in their natural settings or in our state-of-the-art usability lab. Our current area of focus ranges from smart hospitals and creating technologies to improve chronic disease outcomes to social computing, conversational agents, technologies for emotion regulation and age care, explainable AI, context-aware systems and cognitive computing. More information about our team and current projects can be found at: https://cis.unimelb.edu.au/hci/.

The University of Melbourne will be the home for one PhD candidate whose dissertation will address research questions on how to design and use digital technologies to support people living with heart failure in their homes and create technology-supported behaviour interventions for better health outcomes. This includes technologies that instrument the environment as well as wearable sensors on the patient to detect and monitor activities, such as sleep, physical exercise, medication and water intake. The processing and exchange of this data will empower patients and their carers to better manage heart failure and to optimise communication with their healthcare providers when and if needed. Therefore, the candidate will build on our existing work on the use of wearable sensors, mobile activity recognition and the utilisation of conversational agents as a natural user interface to engage with patients in their homes. The candidate with a prospective background in computing will be based in Melbourne and spend at least 12 months at FUB to operationalise behavioural theories through technology and deploy the study apparatuses, and data collectors developed during the candidacy in collaboration with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin.

At the Freie Universität Berlin, the candidate will work within the Division of Health Psychology. The members of the Division of Health Psychology collaborate and publish together with researchers from 27 nations and different disciplines such as medicine, social sciences, business, and computer science. The field of Health Psychology is dedicated to the scientific study of stress and coping, psychological factors in physical illness, health-enhancing and health-compromising behaviors, and health promotion. How do people react to, cope with and recover from illness? Why are some persons acting in accordance with their health goals, whereas other fail to translate their good intentions into action? How can we tailor treatments to a person’s needs and motivational state? Our group aims to examine what drives change of health behaviors (e.g., healthy nutrition, physical activity, hand hygiene, and healthy smartphone use) and how these behaviours can be promoted by treatments. We analyze data from (technology-based) assessments of health behaviors over time using state-of-the-art quantitative methods. More information about the Division of Health Psychology can be found at: https://www.ewi-psy.fu-berlin.de/en/einrichtungen/arbeitsbereiche/gesund/index.html.

The planned dissertation with a home at Freie Universität Berlin reflects a cumulative thesis comprising three manuscripts and will be jointly supervised by Prof. Nina Knoll and PI Keller. The dissertation includes research questions on how habit formation of new health behaviours can be modelled and promoted by interventions, which will be primarily examined using data from the HASCI (Healthy, Active, and Sustainable Commuting Intervention) study. The HASCI study was prepared in the context of the 2021 UoM-BUA grant and is conducted up to October 2022. The proposed PhD candidate at FUB can base their research questions on existing datasets (i.e., HASCI and ERNA study projects), highlighting the feasibility to finish the PhD in respective years and not being dependent on issues around data collection. As a first manuscript on habit formation modelling, the topical question on how many days are needed to form a new habit should be investigated using a two-study paper on commuting (HASCI study) and hand washing (ERNA study) habit formation, thereby comparing behavioral complexity of both behavior change contexts. The second manuscript will focus on individual psychological predictors (e.g., using cue-to-action strategies such as putting the helmet on one’s shoes) of active commuting behaviors (i.e., cycling instead of using the car), again applying analyses of data from the HASCI study. In a third HASCI data-based manuscript, the role of social exchange strategies for habit formation processes should be investigated. That is, participants will choose a commuting buddy in the intervention and both buddies might exchange supportive text messages to initiate and maintain active commuting (e.g., cycling to work), particularly in difficult or demanding situations (e.g., forecast predicting bad weather).

The successful candidates will:

  • Conduct research in the fields of ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction, and behavioural sciences.
  • Develop methods to quantify and track behaviours using sensing technologies and mobile computing devices.
  • Implement interventions to nudge users towards healthier behaviours.
  • Design, conduct, and report on studies that quantitatively and qualitatively investigate how digital technologies can effectively change people’s behaviours for the better.

Project goals

These projects aim to design, develop and evaluate technologies that 1) monitor and instill healthy behaviours for people living with heart failure, and 2) intervene to support healthy, active, and sustainable commuting behaviours and to study habit formation.

Supervision team

*Click on the researcher's name above to learn more about their publication and grant successes.

Who we are looking for

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • A Masters qualification in Computer Science or related field (UoM home based).
  • A Masters qualification in Psychology or related field (BUA home based).
  • Demonstrated experience in quantitative research methods and proficiency in data analysis (Python, R, Matlab, or equivalent).
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date).
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.

Further details

  • Two PhD projects are available. One candidate will be based at University of Melbourne with a minimum twelve-month stay at Freie Universität Berlin. The Berlin University Alliance candidate  will be based at Freie Universität Berlin and will spend a minimum of 12 months at the University of Melbourne.
  • The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.
  • Dr Tilman Dingler at the University of Melbourne will contribute expertise in human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing and embedded systems, quantitative methods and experimental design.
  • Dr Jan Keller at Freie Universität Berlin will contribute expertise in health behaviour change-related theories and interventions, habit formation and its determinants, as well as quantitative methods and experimental design.
  • The candidate will be enrolled in the School of Computing and Information Systems PhD program at the University of Melbourne and will work within the Division of Health Psychology Freie Universität Berlin.

To apply for this joint PhD opportunity, and to view the entry requirements, visit How to apply.

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How to apply

Apply for a joint PhD with the Berlin University Alliance - Melbourne Joint Training Group.

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