FSU College of Nursing to launch Institute for Digital Health and Innovation to help solve ‘real-world needs’

Lisa Hightow-Weidman, Founding Director of the Institute for Digital Health and Innovation, and Catherine Muessig, Associate Founding Director of the Institute.

Two recently hired faculty members in the College of Nursing are wasting no time making their mark at Florida State University, expanding the college’s footprint by creating a new institute focused on the intersection of digital innovation, big data and healthcare.

Lisa Hightow-Weidman and Kathryn Mussig—respected digital health experts recruited by FSU from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—created the Institute for Digital Health and Innovation.

The institute, part of the College of Nursing, will emphasize the use of digital tools in health education, communication and treatment; inspire collaboration and innovation in academia and the healthcare industry; and provides training for undergraduates and postdoctoral fellows through research.

Hightow-Weidman will serve as founding director and Muessig as founding associate director.

“This institute will bring together and foster collaboration among many diverse groups, including academic, public and industry stakeholders,” said Hightow-Weidman. “And what the institute can offer, we hope, is to create an ecosystem that facilitates the advancement of rigorous, translational research focused on solving real-world patient needs that ultimately benefits health systems and communities.” .”

The initiative corresponds with FSU’s growth in health-related research and education programs. Florida State University is building its health research portfolio while pursuing partnerships with major North Florida healthcare organizations, including Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, HCA Florida and Mayo Clinic.

The Institute for Digital Health and Innovation will play a major role in fostering these efforts while providing important training opportunities for students.

“There are some great researchers in the College of Nursing who have thought a lot about digital technology and health education and how you use it to benefit patients,” Muessig said.

She noted one of her first conversations with Jing Wang, dean of the College of Nursing, and said, “One of the things I really appreciated hearing was her vision for inquiry-based learning—hands-on, experiential learning for students to complements what you’re doing in the classroom.’

Hightow-Weidman began her role as the McKenzie Distinguished and Endowed Professor in the College of Nursing in early October. Muessig will begin his role as a professor in the College of Nursing on December 1.

“Research at the Institute for Digital Health and Innovation will advance equitable care that leverages new digital solutions, fulfilling the College of Nursing’s mission to boldly address challenges in how healthcare workers deliver the best care to patients,” Wang said. “This initiative will also provide more learning opportunities for students and foster collaboration and innovation on campus to impact the entire health care ecosystem in Florida, nationally and globally.”

Wang also noted the college’s focus on technology to improve the use of the human touch — she calls it the “high human touch” — and increase the amount of time nurses spend with patients.

“One health equity focus of the digital health approach we’ve anchored here at FSU is the technology-empowered approach with a high human touch to engage not only the wealthy who desire advanced technology, but also those who don’t have access to or prefer high human touch over technology solutions,” she said. “This could be especially beneficial to the ever-growing retired/aging population in the state of Florida.”

She called the approach “our guiding principle and our lens using digital health solutions.”

Hightow-Weidman is an internationally recognized expert in the development, implementation and evaluation of digital health interventions to address the HIV continuum of care for adolescents and young adults. She is at the forefront of translating evidence-based science into digital applications, in particular by incorporating game-based elements, self-monitoring and tracking, and providing support to increase engagement and impact health behaviours.

Muessig focuses on the prevention and care of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in the US, China and South Africa. She develops interventions combining digital health tools, behavior change strategies and navigating health systems to reduce HIV transmission and improve health care for people living with HIV.

Together, they have raised over $100 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They aim to quickly build on this, including for the Institute for Digital Health and Innovation.

The founders pitched their initiative because of the promise of a team center that collaborates and inspires research leading to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease.

“It was exciting to meet people from FSU who are working in different areas of digital health, coming from different approaches, different types of technology, wearables, areas that we’ve been interested in but haven’t had the opportunity to collaborate and let’s see where that takes us,” Muessig said.

The institute will also provide hands-on experience to students who could apply the research and digital health approach to careers, for example in healthcare, public services or academia.

“Starting research can be intimidating,” Hightow-Weidman said. “My hope for the institute is also to create a space for people who may have thought about research, have a great idea, but maybe aren’t sure how to get started, or could benefit from additional training, mentoring or job opportunities in a network.’

She added, “We’re really excited about what the next few years will bring, and we can’t think of a better place to launch this new endeavor than FSU.”

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