By Olivia R. Weidner, DHIT Global Intern | May 5, 2020

On Friday, May 1st, the Digital Health Institute for Transformation (DHIT) hosted the third installment of its digital web series. The DHIT Frequency Webinar Series, which takes place biweekly, is a way to keep our community connected while many work from home. Each segment will be hosted by DHIT’s President, Michael Levy, and will spotlight distinguished guests from across the ecosystem to discuss the state of digital health in the time of COVID-19. 

Amidst widespread fear and uncertainty, DHIT explores the role of digital health in the global response to COVID-19, gaining insight into the ways this crisis has catalyzed the usage and acceptance of telehealth and other digital health technologies. Last week’s panelists included:

  • Dr. Veena Misra, Director of the ASSIST Center at NC State University
  • Dr. Ian Chuang, Chief Medical Officer at Elsevier Health International
  • Dr. Michael Ruhlen, VP of Medical Education at Atrium Health

Friday’s webinar was a continuation of DHIT’s COVID-19 series. Now that we are roughly two months into the pandemic, states are beginning to discuss reopening plans. Still, it’s difficult to determine whether we have the data necessary to make informed decisions regarding these next steps. In Friday’s episode, host and moderator Michael Levy led a discussion about the advances, opportunities and challenges of remote monitoring in the context of COVID-19. Moreover, he posed questions to our panelists regarding the naturally evolving digital care models of value-based care, and the need for personalized data in the current climate and beyond. Each of our panelists offered unique insight into their respective domain of healthcare. Dr. Veena Misra discussed her research and technology development at the ASSIST Center, while Dr. Ian Chuang shared his experience as CMO of Elsevier Health International. Finally, Dr. Michael Ruhlen, VP of Medical Education at Atrium Health, gave viewers an inside look at the changes taking place within a major health system. 

The first question posed by Levy concerned what information might be missing at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic. He asked each panelist what data might give us a more complete picture of the current situation. For Ruhlen, many of the current metrics used seemed to make sense, at least from a health system perspective; the data points used are “indicators of the susceptibility of a healthcare system becoming overwhelmed with patient volume.” However, these data points don’t tell the whole story. An important set of variables needs to be taken into consideration: namely, social determinants of health. Ruhlen elaborated on this point, drawing attention to the inequalities and discrepancies in access across the United States: 

“The incidence rate is a reflection of social determinants of health…We know that there is a significant disparity in the attack rates between the Caucasian populations and other underserved populations that one might consider. The reason for that is that the rate of chronic diseases that can complicate COVID-19 is higher in minority populations. That, also, is a reflection of poor access to healthcare and poverty.”

“Just like healthcare, digital technology is not evenly distributed across the population. As much as we are seeing digital transformation, we also have to address the system at the macro level because it shows the same pattern as healthcare in terms of access and other issues.”

In the face of a pandemic, the disenfranchised face greater risk. Ruhlen points to poverty as a factor, in that those without the benefit of economic stability cannot stockpile goods like others can. This means that they are forced to “go out into the environment” on a more frequent basis, thus increasing their risk of exposure. Chuang aptly summed up this reality by saying that “[COVID-19] is identifying and accentuating many existing gaps.”

According to Chuang, another important chasm exists at the micro-level: “The gap in knowledge and information lies beyond the high-level directives and best practices for things like social distancing and self-care. We’re missing personalized, individualized plans for care for individuals with chronic conditions in the context of COVID-19.” Patients with underlying conditions often require special considerations for safe practices amidst viral spread, and no two patients are the same, regardless of shared chronic illnesses. Chuang articulates that a potential opportunity for addressing this issue would be the collection of biometric data in order to understand the unique baseline for each patient. 

At the ASSIST Center, Misra is building battery-free, always-on, long-term wearables to gather such baseline data as well as trends over time. Gathering information regarding each patient’s normal heart rate, oxygen level, or activity levels can inform providers to take action when something changes. Furthermore, the use of AI (artificial intelligence) in the analysis of biometric data presents a unique opportunity to aid in personalized care delivery. 

As the world is forced to move toward digital and virtual means of communication, it’s important to consider that some may be left behind. Ruhlen argues that access to the internet should be considered among the other social determinants of health, given the importance of this variable for access to safe communication and care. Chuang agrees: 

“Just like healthcare, digital technology is not evenly distributed across the population. As much as we are seeing digital transformation, we also have to address the system at the macro level because it shows the same pattern as healthcare in terms of access and other issues.”

Nonetheless, innovative technology developed by researchers at places like the ASSIST Center holds promise for leveling the playing field to some extent. By remaining conscious of material cost and working with insurance companies and other payment providers, Misra hopes to expand access to care and information through the use of low-cost wearable technologies. 

DHIT thanks its guests for serving on the panel, and everyone who tuned in! If you were not able to catch last week’s webinar, check out DHIT’s Media page to see what you missed. DHIT would also like to give a special shout out to our sponsors: Bluedoor Group, Tanjo, and Smashing Boxes, for making this webinar possible.

We are excited to announce that DHIT will be partnering with the ASSIST Center to launch an ongoing focus on remote care. Beginning May 15th, DHIT and the ASSIST Center will partner to launch a virtual incubator using Crowdicity to collect crowdsourced ideas from the digital health community. For more information, see the latest edition of the DHIT Digest, and mark your calendar for Friday, May 15th for the next installment of the DHIT Frequency Webinar Series. Until then, stay safe, everyone! To view previous recordings, visit DHIT’s Media page here:


The Digital Health Institute for Transformation (DHIT) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit education and research institute supporting communities through the process of digital health transformation. We collaborate with leading academic institutions, associations, and industry to cultivate talent and ecosystems with our immersive learning platform, harnessing real-world experiences that drive the adoption of next-generation skills, emerging technologies, and mindsets needed to foster the digital health leaders and innovators of the future, today. For more information, visit

If you would like more information on this topic, please contact our Executive Producer, Brian Cooper at