Featured researcher: Dr Esther Smits

19 Feb 2020
Dr Esther Smits discusses her work within the Optimising recovery after compensable injury team at RECOVER.

What are your research interests?

Dr Esther Smits

My general research interest includes human movement (e.g. physical activity) and health. In particular, I am interested in research that is aimed at improving health care services and rehabilitation programs that lead to better health outcomes. As a human movement scientist, I think movement, such as physical activity and exercise, is a key aspect of a healthy lifestyle and therefore plays an important role in rehabilitation. However, before being able to actually change or improve treatment or rehabilitation programs, I think it is essential to understand the impact of a health problem on the ability to undertake daily functional activities. For example, some of my research focusses on getting a better understanding of how a health problem affects physical activity such as walking. Additionally, my research is focused on how health care services can be improved by, for example, developing tools to identify risk of poor recovery following an injury.

What aspects do you enjoy most about your work?

I like the idea that my research can potentially improve people’s health and especially improve people’s life following an injury or other health problems. I very much enjoy working on the data and statistical analysis of my projects, such as processing and analysing data from activity monitors or building a statistical prediction model using survey data from injured people. However, the aspect that I like most about my work in general is that it consist of a variety of tasks and activities.

What are you currently working on?

At the RECOVER Injury Research Centre I am working within the research program Optimising recovery after compensable injury. I am working on a few projects related to physical activity:

  • Monitoring recovery of physical activity in people with acquired brain injury (in collaboration with the Acquired Brain Injury Transitional Rehabilitation Service (ABI-TRS), Metro South Health)
  • Comparing different activity monitors (including a Fitbit) to measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour following brain injury in laboratory and free-living settings (in collaboration with the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) at UQ)
  • Comparing physical activity measured by observation with activity monitors in acute care inpatients (in collaboration with the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), Metro North Hospital and Health Service).
  • Monitoring physical activity and variability in heart rate during a fitness test and over 24 hours  in individuals with traumatic brain injury (in collaboration with the SHRS at UQ)

I am also working on a Delphi study aimed at establishing expert consensus on a definition for recovery following mild to moderate injuries sustained in a road traffic crash and the predictors of recovery. Future research and practice could be improved with a universal definition of recovery by, for example, improving communication between the different professions. A better understanding of the predictors of poor recovery could help to develop and improve tools or methods to identify those at risk of poor recovery. The experts in this study (i.e. insurance case managers, health professionals and researchers) were also asked about the need for additional resources to identify risk of poor recovery (e.g. a screening tool), and whether they would consider using the RAPPORT screening tool, which we have recently developed and published. Half of the experts (n=21) reported it would be likely that they would use the RAPPORT tool in their practice or research.

RAPPORT stands for: Risk Assessment for poor Physical and Psychological Outcome in Recovery Tool for injuries sustained in a road traffic crash

The RAPPORT is a screening tool that has recently been developed and can potentially be used to identify individuals who are at risk of poor physical and/or mental health recovery following minor and moderate road traffic crash-related injuries. The tool can be administered by both health and non-health professionals and could especially be useful for injury case managers.

The RAPPORT screening tool can be downloaded for free via the RECOVER website.

Optimising recovery after compensable injury

Learn more about Esther’s research at the video below