The Doctor will see your phone now

close up code coding computer
Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro on

We have integrated our technological devices into our daily lives to the point they are indispensable. In past blogs, I have written about how more and more health tech solutions are relying on that deep integration. How would you feel at your next healthcare appointment if you also handed over your phone as part of your health check-up? What if your doctor wanted to see your browser history and health data (steps walked, sleep, blood pressure) you may be using your phone to track- would you say yes?

A new study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research lead by Daniel Di Matteo at the University of Toronto examined the feasibility of using cell phone data to augment self-reported symptoms in patients seeking care for mental health. The study wanted to understand a patient’s willingness to have their phone use tracked over time to provide a fuller picture of their daily lives which included screen activity, geolocation, and communication cadence.

Key Findings

The study included 82 patients seeking care in an anxiety and mood disorder clinic, 89% of whom owned a phone and used it daily, with 85% connecting to the internet via their phone. When asked about their willingness to install an app to assess their mental health 41% were wholly willing, and a further 43% indicated they were potentially willing to install the app. The participants were discerning about the kinds of data the app might hypothetically track, for example, people were less willing to allow audio recordings to be monitored over time (19% wholly ready and 31% potentially willing) while being more willing to enable the assessment of phone screen activity, being on or off (46% combined wholly willing and potentially willing).

Overall this study shows an increasing willingness in using phones to augment health management; this study adds more clarity to the kinds of data people are ready to have their doctors collect to form a complete picture of their daily lives with the goal of informing healthcare treatment decisions. People are more wary of sharing audio data, but in general, there is a shift toward sharing more and more kinds of data with healthcare teams.

Given the troves of data healthcare teams already have access to one question is what they would do with daily phone data.? How would they want to look at this data and what patterns are most predictive of worsening health? Some early studies are showing this may be of benefit, but we are still not clear on its utility, so more studies are warranted.

The other question is privacy until greater ethical frameworks are in place between phone companies, social media platforms, and browsers it would seem the patient’s privacy is at stake as it relates to the kinds data being collected, if it is done with informed consent and how it is being used to plan care. Developing safeguards will be necessary for consumer protection.
Thanks for reading- Trina
(Opinions are my own)


Patient Willingness to Consent to Mobile Phone Data Collection for Mental Health Apps: Structured Questionnaire.

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