Thursday, April 2, 2015

Smartphones as research assistants

My colleagues and I are developing an analytics 'engine' based on data collected from smartphones to help users monitor and modify their media use for optimal performance and well-being.  (More about our research later after our pilot studies are completed later this year).

So I was interested to see how medical researchers are also using smartphones to gather data from patients in what will no doubt become a standard research platform of the future.  Apple featured several such applications in a recent company presentation.  See the Apple release video. The section on research applications is about 10 minutes into the presentation.

Smartphones can perform the tasks of research assistants, like explaining the research, getting written (sign with your finger) consent and gathering data.   But, they (smartphones)--unlike human research assistants--can more accurately time stamp data input and include highly accurate geographical location and other contextual data.

More importantly, unlike surveys, which most of us delete before opening opening in our email, downloading and responding to smartphone apps can be done almost anywhere anytime, in those moments of micro-boredom, when we might be very happy to do a quick agility test for Parkinson's disease, for example, with the data sent automatically to the research team (but not to Apple). In the examples in the videos, one medical researcher explains how she used to send out thousands of letters to get a few dozen participants in her studies.  Now, she can get hundreds of interested folks downloading the app and participating in her research.  The implications of such improvements in sample size are significant.

I have always imagined that the Baby Boomer generation will be heavy consumers of distributed medical services and, as these developments demonstrate, there can be a two-way exchange between medical patients (consumers) and medical care providers (doctors and medical researchers).  Individual data is given in exchange for collective analysis and ultimately, better understanding.

This may be one way that smartphones are good for our health.

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