d.health Exclusive Interview
Jessie Juusola PhD, Evidation Health
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Jessie Juusola PhD
Sr Director, Health Outcomes Research
Jessie is the Director of Health Outcomes Research at Evidation Health, where she was a member of the founding team. At Evidation, she works with a wide range of healthcare solution manufacturers and providers to design and execute digital health clinical studies in efficient, tech-enabled ways. Prior to this role, she spearheaded health economics initiatives across payer strategy and strategic marketing at CardioDx, a genomic diagnostics company focused on the cardiovascular space. Previously, she was a consultant at ZS Associates and spent years conducting provider market research for biotech companies. She holds BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Management Science & Engineering from Stanford University, where her graduate research focused on mathematical modeling of health policy and cost-effectiveness analysis.
D.HEALTH: Evidation Health recently made a big announcement on a large-scale pain study you are running. Tell us about the ‘DiSCover Project’.
JUUSOLA: The DiSCover Project, which stands for Digital Signals in Chronic Pain, is a large-scale effort to collect data directly from people who suffer from chronic pain, as well as healthy controls who do not. We’ll use the study dataset to further our understanding of aspects of chronic pain such as its triggers, experience during flare ups, and quality of life of those who suffer. We are collecting many different types of data in this study, including patient-reported outcomes (PROs), behavioral data from activity trackers and health apps, lab test results, genetics, and voice and speech data. We will also pull in data associated with study participants’ locations, such as weather and socio-economic metrics. The study will run over the course of 1-year for each enrolled participant.
D.HEALTH: What do you hope the research will uncover for elderly populations, as well as more general populations affected by chronic pain.
JUUSOLA: There is some evidence that different age groups and populations experience chronic pain very differently. This is intuitive, since pain is a subjective experience, and it can be confounded by other age-related comorbidities. With this study, for general populations affected by chronic pain, we hope to develop algorithms based on passively-collected digital data that objectively characterize things like quality of life or predict when a flare up in pain is coming. We also hope to understand the experience of aging populations more granularly. For example, they may have different symptom triggers than younger populations, or it may be that the impact on their quality of life looks different than it does for a younger person. Developing digital signals and algorithms that are specific to an older population will allow us to personalize the care pathway for members of this population.
D.HEALTH: What have been your experiences thus far in engaging elderly populations in tech-enabled research, in DiSCover or other studies?
JUUSOLA: Many people are skeptical that it is even possible to engage elderly people in tech-enabled research. Our experience has been quite the opposite. Conducting research virtually, like we are doing with the DiSCover Project and do in many different disease areas, opens up access to research broadly to anyone who has an internet connection, regardless of how close they live to a research center. At this point, the vast majority of the US population, even the elderly, has access to the internet. We’ve run a number of studies that focus exclusively in elderly populations, from Medicare Advantage members to retirement community residents, and have been successful in recruiting and retaining participants in these studies. Even in studies where we are not focusing on elderly populations, or even restrict enrollment to those under a certain age such as 75, we see a strong representation of people over 50. If you boil down our experience to one thing, it’s that elderly populations are interested in contributing to improving healthcare and are willing to try out new digital health tools if that’s what it takes.
D.HEALTH: In the digital era of medicine, what do you see as the most promising innovations or technologies for aging populations?
JUUSOLA: The broad concept of bringing health into people’s daily lives and under their control is what I see as the most promising aspect of digital medicine. As we age, we become more and more aware of our health; regular monitoring and engagement with it is critical for thriving. Digital tools allow us to do just that, in ways that have never been available historically. The behavioral patterns and everyday data collection that digital tools enable also allow us to develop a much deeper understanding of the experience and outcomes of all types of populations, including the elderly. That is exactly what we are trying to do with the DiSCover Project and other studies.