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Mount Sinai Asthma Study Demonstrates Potential of Smartphones for Clinical Observational Research

March 13, 2017
by David Raths
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Built using Apple’s ResearchKit, study captures research data from thousands of individuals to better characterize ‘real world’ patterns of disease, behavior

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York today published results from a study of asthma patients conducted entirely via iPhone using the Apple ResearchKit framework and the Asthma Health app developed at Mount Sinai with collaborating organizations.

The researchers say the results, published in Nature Biotechnology, demonstrated that this approach was successful for large-scale participant enrollment across the country, secure bi-directional data exchange between study investigators and app users, and collection of other useful information such as geolocation, air quality, and device data.

The Asthma Mobile Health Study was launched in March 2015, and in the first six months, nearly 50,000 iPhone users downloaded the app. The study included regular surveys to understand how asthma patients were affected by and treating their condition over time.

 A total of 7,593 people completed the electronic informed consent process and enrolled in the study. Eighty-five percent of them completed at least one survey, with a core group of 2,317 robust users who filled out multiple surveys during the course of the six-month study. Results were compared to existing asthma patient studies and to external factors as a control for the reliability of patient-reported data. For example, scientists were able to correlate increased daily asthma symptoms among participants in Washington State with an outbreak of wildfires at the time. Similar factors that could be corroborated in the patient data included pollen levels and heat. Data for commonly used asthma metrics, such as peak flow, matched what has been observed in other studies.

 The researchers determined that smartphone-based studies are particularly suitable for studies of short duration that require rapid enrollment across diverse geographical locations, frequent data collection, and real-time feedback to participants.

Eric Schadt, Ph.D., senior author on the paper and the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and founding director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, spoke about the significance of the study in a prepared statement. “The Asthma Mobile Health study represents the coming together of academia and industry to benefit from the ubiquity of smartphones and harness the power of citizen-science to modernize the clinical research process. We now have the ability to capture rich research data from thousands of individuals to better characterize ‘real world’ patterns of disease, wellness, and behavior. This approach provides a more comprehensive and accurate view of our patients that was not feasible in the past due to logistical limitations and prohibitive costs.”

In 2015, there were 3 billion smartphones in use globally, and that number is expected to double by 2020. Mobile health studies allow scientists to reach unprecedented numbers of participants around the world. Future directions for digital health at Mount Sinai include more work on enterprise-level electronic informed consent and expansion to other diseases and health conditions.

 

 

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