Aug 31 2012

Cell Phones as Public Health Tools

While the syringe has often been the visual image most closely associated with public health, in just a short time the cell phone could be the go-to icon.The Yale School of Public Health has announced a novel, two-year clinical trialthat will use participants’ cell phones, and the text messages those cell phones transmit, to develop mobile phone-based health interventions that target specific peer groups. The trial is being funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The participants in this first trial are young men ages 18 to 25 who have agreed to allow their cell phones to be tracked by Yale researchers. Each participant’s physical location will be tracked through global positioning systems, and a computer program will register all incoming and outgoing calls and text messages, which will not be shared outside the trial. The clinical trial will have three social networks which will each start with a single person and then recruit his friends, and then their friends, until each of the three groups has 40 active members. The researchers are specifically looking for text messages that relate to sexually transmitted diseases and substance abuse.

“Cell phones have made it easier to maintain and develop network ties,” says Trace Kershaw, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, and leader of the trial. “The nature of how this communication flows and how it relates to network characteristics and risk within networks will allow us to develop communication technology-delivered peer interventions by suggesting the most effective modes, frequency and patterns of information delivery.”

>>Bonus Link: Read about a smartphone-based trial being run by Asthmapolis, a Madison, Wisc., company that is using sensor-enhanced smart phones to help better understand when and where people with asthma develop symptoms.

>>Weigh In: What novels efforts is your community, company or research group using to collect or disseminate public health information?

Tags: Public and Community Health, Research, Sexual Health, Technology