Growing Health Innovation with Dr Rosie Dobson

NIHI turns 30 this year. That’s 30 years of ground-breaking work that has help shape research, informed policy and driven innovation. In the lead up to our conference celebration, we spoke to the team and found out more about the people behind the work. Next, we spoke to Dr Rosie Dobson, one of our Research Fellows.


What were you doing 30 years ago?

I was attending primary school in Hamilton. At the time, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I could never have comprehended that in 30 years I would be a Health Psychologist and Researcher in the digital health space.

What do you see as the biggest advance in public health/research/technology in the last 30 years?

The development and growth of new communication tools particularly the mobile phone and social media. These new communication channels have advanced the delivery of healthcare making it more accessible than ever before and allowing us to reach people in their everyday lives with few barriers. In research, mobile phones also allow not only a new mode of health intervention but a way of collecting data. 

What are you working on now that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago?

With my work centred around mHealth, particularly the use of mobile phones to deliver health interventions, you could say most of my work was unthinkable 30 years ago.

Why did you choose to join NIHI?

I chose to join NIHI because of the people. NIHI has an amazing multidisciplinary team with world-leading expertise. The work carried out at NIHI is not only high quality but it is at the forefront of the field making it exciting to be a part of.

What’s your fondest memory from your time at NIHI?

The people. I have had the privilege of working with amazing colleagues who continue to inspire me. In amongst the hard work, there has been plenty of laughter as well as fun celebrating successes. 

What is exciting to you about research and technology today?

In research, we now focus much more on consumer engagement. No longer is our research carried out by experts in isolation but rather we value input and collaboration with end-users (communities, patients, health professionals) throughout the research process - from defining the research question and designing the interventions, through to the interpretation of the findings and dissemination.

From a technology point of view, innovations are being made daily providing exciting opportunities for the delivery of healthcare. With advances in sensor technology and AI, there is huge potential for technology in improving the health of New Zealanders.

What do you see as the biggest challenge you face in your work today?

Limited research funding and time continue to pose significant challenges in our day-to-day work. We spend a lot of our time working to secure funding in a very competitive environment. Society moves at a rapid pace but good quality research takes time which can also be challenging. Additionally, the rise of technology particularly social media poses unique challenges for public health. No longer are public health messages primarily disseminated through trusted sources. Anyone, anywhere can communicate their health views to millions in an instant. This is can be positive but unfortunately there are also a lot of incorrect messages which contradict the scientific evidence and best practice which can be dangerous.

What predictions do you have for the next 30 years?

That it will be challenging! Significant changes to healthcare will need to be made to address the challenges posed by our changing population structure and by the increasing impact of the environment on health. With an ageing population, living with a chronic condition will become more common and so how health is defined will need to shift from the absence of disease to something more individual based on personal values and priorities. This will mean healthcare will need to be even more adaptable and personalised which is where technology and data hold huge potential. I hope that in the next 30 years the health inequalities currently seen for Māori and Pacific in New Zealand no longer exist and access to good quality, and evidence-based, healthcare is universal.