Professor Will Dixon

Thousands take part in daily pain check for study

With seven in 10 adults in the UK owning a smart phone and hundreds of thousands of health apps available, it’s little surprise that more and more researchers are turning to mobile phones as a way of collecting data.

Smartphone apps make it easy for patients to report symptoms and sensors can be built in to feed back information, not just from devices such as blood pressure monitors but also data on movement and environmental exposures.

But recruiting a representative group of people to a mobile health study remains a major challenge, as does keeping them engaged and using the app throughout the study period.

It makes it all the more impressive that the world’s first smartphone-based study to investigate the association between pain and the weather has succeeded in collecting a wealth of information from more than 13,000 people who signed up.

Cloudy with a Chance of Pain Principal Investigator Professor Will Dixon, Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist at Salford Royal and Director of The University of Manchester’s Arthritis Research UK Centre for Epidemiology, came up with the idea.  He said: “Many people with arthritis believe that changes in the weather affect their level of pain and our study set out to test that by collecting accurate information about their pain and local weather conditions daily for six months. We will be reporting back on our findings in spring 2018 but we have already looked at the type of people who enrolled in the study and whether they reported back on their symptoms each day.

“We were delighted that of those who got involved during the first month of the study, around one in seven provided data on most days in the first six months – that’s much higher than any other study into a mobile app and it gives us high quality data to base our findings on.

“More than 30 per cent of participants entered information on at least half the days throughout this period.

“Some great coverage on TV, radio and newspapers helped us recruit our participants very quickly but we did expect some to drop out because we were asking quite a lot of them – we wanted them to grade 10 symptoms every day on a scale from no pain to very severe.

“We’re very grateful to our participants that so many stuck with the app. We found older people were more likely to report their symptoms daily, perhaps because they had fewer other phone apps competing for their attention. We also think that it was a very user-friendly app, with reminders, tailored content and feedback to keep people motivated.”

The University of Manchester research is supported by Arthritis Research UK, uMotif in London, and the Office for Creative Research in New York.  It is being carried out in association with the University’s Health e-Research Centre.