Mary Goldberg gives us an assistive technology specialist’s perspective on healthcare on this episode of the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast with Rob Oliver. Mary is a member of the Millennial Generation, although she is close to the line of belonging to Generation X. She lives in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania where she serves as the Associate Dean for Interprofessional Studies at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Pittsburgh.
Here are 3 things that stood out as Mary Goldberg shared an assistive technology specialist’s perspective on healthcare:
- It is important to look at the people that are served by the healthcare community has more than their primary diagnosis or presenting issue. Take a look at what else is going on in their life and how it may impact their plan of care moving forward.
- Assistive technology improves the independence and functionality of people with disabilities. Her definition of assistive technology is a product or service that enhances the independence in health of individuals with disabilities.
- Technology will play a major role in the future of healthcare. Artificial intelligence can assist with diagnoses, technology can help offer personalized medicine, and telehealth offers patients access to care from anywhere.
- Bonus: smart home technology can help people with disabilities to be more independent but also may be able to help improve their health.
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Here is the text of the interview with Mary Goldberg as she gave us an assistive technology specialist’s perspective on healthcare:
Introduction to Mary Goldberg
Rob Oliver: Thank you and welcome. I appreciate you being here today. My guest is Mary Goldberg. She is the Associate Dean for Interprofessional Studies in the School of Health and Rehab Science here at the University of Pittsburgh. A millennial, but almost on the edge of being a Gen X-er, we’ll give her full credit for whichever one she chooses to identify in. She is a specialist in assistive technology. Mary, welcome to the podcast.
Mary Goldberg: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. I just celebrated my 40th year on this earth, but I suppose if coining myself as a millennial shaved some years off of me, I’ll put myself into that bucket. But yeah, I feel like I share some millennial traits and maybe some Gen X-er traits, not fully growing up with the internet. So I appreciate the younger vibes for when I want them, I guess. Thank you.
Rob Oliver: No worries about it. And listen, we refuse to pigeonhole people here. You just be you and your age is a number. And quite frankly, you are a youthful and spry individual. So we’ll go with that. So let’s jump right into this. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in healthcare, please.
Mary Goldberg: Sure, absolutely. Yeah, so I am a Pitt woman through and through. I started at the University of Pittsburgh in 2001. My major was psychology and Spanish and wasn’t sure where I wanted to land. Got my master’s in education and had the good fortune of being hired by Dr. Rory Cooper into the human engineering research labs at Pitt. And at the time I was working on, we did have a grant, external funding to support veterans. It was funded by the National Science Foundation to support veterans with disabilities in their transition back to college and all of the different supports and so on that they would need. And to keep that program sustainable, I started doing more and more grant writing and working on different initiatives and like what often happens in academia, getting pulled into other people’s projects as well and realized, hey, I could probably be getting my PhD with this great content that I have here as a part of my day job. So I did just that. I got my PhD while I was a staff person working and then later became faculty in Rory’s department. He was the chair at the time, rehab science and technology is the home department and later became an associate professor in that department. And then, as you mentioned, most recently, this associate dean of interprofessional studies, we have 30 programs in the school. And so my role is to help the programs and the students collaborate together so that when they go out into practice, they can speak each other’s language and work together and reap all of the interprofessional practice benefits. As a part of my sort of typical faculty role, I oversee two projects, but I also serve as a master of rehabilitation technology director, and this is how I connected with you, Rob. Rob sits on our advisory board for that program. The rehab technology program, the alumni from that program go on to become assistive technology professionals and help in ensuring that people with disabilities and anyone who needs assistive technologies is receiving quality products and services. But anyhow, as my kind of other role related to my faculty work, I have two projects. One to support quality wheelchair service provision around the world that’s funded by the U.S. agency for international development, and we spun out a nonprofit organization to keep this work sustainable called the international society of wheelchair professionals. And then a second project called impact, this is supported by the national institute of disability, independent living, and rehabilitation research. Impact helps to ensure that products that are developed within universities and small businesses get to consumers. That’s a domestic facing project, but I think a lot of the work and the products and so on that we’ve developed, we believe are internationally viable. And so we try to get those out there as well. And then just rounding out the role again, you know, the way that you stay in academia, I think is to take on other cool things that are of interest. But I’ve become involved in a scope of work that it’s primarily out of the med school, but it benefits all of the health sciences called the clinical and translational science institute. And the real goal there, not indifferent really from impact is to make sure that the general research outputs. So this could just be the lessons learned, right? The processes, the products, and so on medicines, drugs that come out of academia are getting to the consumers faster and offers services to researchers around the university to do that. So my general role in healthcare, right, is helping to kind of produce the next generation. But I would say also make sure that the outputs are getting out there to make healthcare better.
Rob Oliver: Okay. So there’s a number of things in there that you and I overlap on, and it’s not just the master’s in rehab technology. I am also a Pitt graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. So we come from similar background there. Let me just ask for a couple definitions for the sake of my audience, okay? You talked about the human engineering research laboratory. Can you give me like a 30 second intro into what that is, please?
Mary Goldberg: Sure. So HERL is the acronym. HERL is co-supported and funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They have a whole research arm out of the VA that helps to support research centers like HERL and Pitt. And their whole mission is to develop better products, but also improve services for assistive technology users, but primarily those who use mobility devices. So they are kind of a wheelchair research and development lab, but of course it’s benefits and products and so on far extend past just that little niche as well.
Rob Oliver: And then assistive technology, can you give me your definition of what assistive technology is?
Mary Goldberg: I’m sure there’s a technical definition, but what does it mean to Mary Goldberg? I think so, I guess the biggest misnomer about assistive technology is that in many of its broader definitions, it includes the services as well. So even though it’s not fully described as assistive technology and services, technology is supposed to include the service as well. So I would say it’s any product off the shelf or modifiable or commercially available or dot, dot, dot, dot, do it yourself that helps to improve the independence and health and function of people with disabilities.
Rob Oliver: Okay, cool. And yeah, I’m sure that we’ll talk about this, but some of that is overlap technology where there are things that would be usable by the general public that offer a special use within the disability community.
Defining quality healthcare
Rob Oliver: So let’s do this. What does quality healthcare mean to you?
Mary Goldberg: a good one. I think that, you know, obviously all of these questions are informed by our individual lenses, right? Um, I think that it’s a, I have an extreme appreciation for what we have access to here in the US and many other developed countries, um, or higher resource countries. I’ve been to, um, a lot of locations, especially related to our international wheelchair work where I’ve seen, um, more extreme conditions. Um, but I would say in general, quality healthcare to me is, um, care that is safe, effective, efficient, and equitable, um, that is also very patient or, you know, in the disability community, we often say use the word client, um, is kind of at the, at the center and driving the process.
Rob Oliver: I love using the word client or customer as it relates to the individual receiving the services because it’s a reminder patients come in because they are needy clients and customers are people who have a choice about where they receive services and the goal is to make sure that they are receiving the highest level of services that keeps them satisfied and keeps them coming back as you know, any idea that they have a choice with that. So love it.
An example of quality healthcare
Rob Oliver: So can you give me an example of quality healthcare?
Mary Goldberg: Sure. Yeah. Um, you know, I will, I’ll stay kind of within my lane here of, of assistive technology and promoting all the wonderful things that it can do. Um, but also, um, interprofessional education and practice as a very important aspect of healthcare. So quality example in my mind coming out of those two realms, I would say would be where let’s say a person with a disability, potentially an older adult would come in for one particular issue, but is actually gets assessed and recommended anything that could perhaps help them live more independently. That is perhaps secondary to the primary issue that they came in to discuss and that the person that sees them or the provider is, is well-trained is a lifelong learner knows technology and other resources to support, but also knows when to refer there are specialists right for, for everything, including assistive technology, um, that they would be referred to the appropriate person, um, when they kind of reached the end of the scope of their practice.
Rob Oliver: Okay. So let me, let me kind of parse through what I heard you say, and that is your, you know, people are coming in and they’re saying, I have this issue and I’m looking for a solution to this issue. And while they’re there, it may become evident that you’re looking at them in kind of a holistic viewpoint to say, all right, let’s look at all of the circumstances of your life. And as we do that, we may uncover some other needs and we may uncover, we may uncover solutions to problems you didn’t realize that you had or to problems that you didn’t realize there were solutions for it. How does that resonate with you?
Mary Goldberg: That resonates perfectly. Yeah. When you were talking, I was thinking, okay, so what would be a particular issue? So let’s say an individual comes in who has fallen, um, that they’re not thinking solely about maybe some of the musculoskeletal things that might be going on, but what might be happening cognitively, for example, what might the environment be presenting to this person on a daily basis? And then again, you know, thinking through how technology could be an enabler, perhaps they’re recommended, you know, some apps for some reminders, maybe it relates to the medicines they’re taking. Maybe it relates to, um, referring out to somebody that could assist with some home modifications, things like that. So yeah, absolutely. This holistic, you know, bringing in a counselor, for example, um, this holistic view of, of someone’s health.
Understanding an assistive technology specialist’s role in healthcare
Rob Oliver: Beautiful. What do you wish people understood about your role in healthcare?
Mary Goldberg: So first, clear disclosure, I am not a healthcare provider, um, but I do consider myself to be a facilitator and a liaison, um, and I am fortunate and humbled to be in, you know, some nice leadership roles, um, and have some platforms to help support the, the next generation of providers and leaders. Um, but that being said, I think that universities can get a bad rap for being too, like, I’m sure you’ve heard the term ivory tower-ish, right? And in many cases with good reason, they’re very out of touch, not interacting with clients and so on. Um, but I think that universities are, are waking up to this, I think, especially related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, um, but also how to be better stewards in their communities, um, and universities like Pitt have this awesome bi-directional relationship, um, with medical centers. So the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, quite large, very resource rich, um, you know, has a dual opportunity to better support communities. Um, so for example, you know, Pitt and UPMC have worked together on workforce development initiatives to, you know, help the economic development of the region, for example, um, and the, the project that I had mentioned before, the CTSI, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute is really trying to bridge this translation gap in research so that research gets to the people faster. So I think that there’s a lot that’s happening, um, to, uh, make universities as beneficial as they can be and should be, especially when they’re receiving tax dollars, like when they’re a public institution and, you know, so, um, yeah, that’s, that’s what I would share.
Rob Oliver: So I think it’s interesting when you look at a project like the Human Engineering Research Lab, HURL, you have the crossover of academia and research, and then you’re bringing in, you’re bringing in folks to experiment, but I mean, not that you’re experimenting on people, but to, to test out the materials that are being in, and you’re soliciting input from the consumers and from the end users to, and so it’s, the old adage used to be those who can do, and those who can’t teach, right? And you’re very much crossing those lines to involve the, the researchers, the consumers, the technology generation, and the world of academia altogether. So then you have people who are doing internships in the actual field where they’re getting the hands-on visual experience. I can’t say this with enough emphasis, but at the end of the day, the consumer of the technology needs to be part of the driving force behind the development of the technology so that it’s, it’s being developed in conjunction with them and not being developed solely for them. So, but that’s, that’s my soap opera stance or soap box stands for the day.
Mary Goldberg: And soap opera. No, it’s no true. Yeah. There’s a phrase for what you just described that I’m sure you know, but if your listeners don’t code participatory action design, and I would say, absolutely. You know, everyone on our team really talks the talk and walks the walk. You know, both at, at Hurl and in the, in the department where I sit currently in rehab science and technology that yeah, research and development is not done to someone, right? It’s very much a partnership and certainly, you know, aim to have really diverse scenes, diverse teams, including people with disabilities to help inform the work and make sure ultimately that it’s going to be adopted too. Right? Like I think people get enamored with ideas and engineers, I think, you know, in particular of, oh, here’s a super cool technology. Of course everyone wants this. But yeah, obviously like the application and the real fit to the person is what we’re striving for.
Looking at the future of healthcare
Rob Oliver: In disability advocacy, the other way to phrase it is nothing about us without us. And that’s key. All right. So we’ve got like two and a half minutes and I’ve got two questions to go. What excites you about the future of healthcare?
Mary Goldberg: I think everything about technology in general excites me to some degree. So when we apply that to healthcare specifically, no doubt the role that artificial intelligence will have related to diagnoses, already does have diagnoses, treatment, personalized medicine, but also devices itself. So those related to delivery like telehealth. But of course also related to assistive technology, really any device that has some shared intelligence with the user is super cool and fun to learn about. We’re doing a good bit right now with smart home technology. I’m developing a training program right now for people with disabilities to better use and implement smart home technologies to support their independence. The capacity of that is improving by the day. So yeah, the opportunity to improve health in the home I think is also there and great. But also hopefully there’s an opportunity to stay healthier such that care needs are minimized also. And I think that that can also be improved by technology.
Rob Oliver: And smart home technology would be things like the Amazon Alexa and voice assistants. And even like Siri on your phone, those all ways in which you can have lights go on and off.
Mary Goldberg: And control the environment around you, exactly. Improved isolation though, everything. I think it’s not just like the techie devices, but yes, absolutely includes that.
Suggestions for improving the quality of healthcare
Rob Oliver: Great. Last question. Well, I say it’s easy because I only ask it. What is one thing medical professionals can start doing today to improve the quality of healthcare?
Mary Goldberg: The first one is listening. I think the research is pretty clear about health inequities and especially relating to those from underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities and others in non-majority racial and ethnic groups who feel that they aren’t quite listened to and then their needs, their healthcare needs aren’t prioritized the way that they should that can have very, very grave implications. So that’s the first one. The second one, I think, again, have to do that technology plug. I think often fear comes in the way of trying something new and the potential learning curve. The way that so many assistive technologies now are becoming integrated into mainstream technology, our phones are so pervasive, like you mentioned, the apps, I think that there is a lot that they can do that can be low-hanging fruit and maybe prevent some likelihood that the device would be abandoned as well because it’s so pervasive and is used every day. So yeah, I guess letting folks be the driver of their care by being listened to and having that agency and providers being receptive to that. But medical professionals also, I think, being trained on technology to help support independence and care.
Rob Oliver: Fantastic. Listen, Mary, thank you so much for being with me today. I appreciate you coming in. You’ve been very informative. Of course, this topic is near and dear to my heart, and I will say I appreciate you and I appreciate your perspective on healthcare.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by guests on the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast are solely the opinion of the guest. They are not to be misconstrued as medical diagnoses or medical advice. Please consult with a licensed medical professional before attempting any of the treatments suggested.