Smartphone programs allow researchers to recruit large numbers of participants
and monitor them in real time.
Last summer, physician Yvonne Chan wondered how the wildfires raging through Washington state were affecting people with asthma — for whom smoke and heat can trigger breathing difficulties. So she tapped into data collected through the Asthma Health iPhone app, which 8,700 people with asthma use each day to record their symptoms and triggers. Chan found that when fires flared up, so did asthma symptoms and reports of environmental triggers among users living near the blazes.
“In the past, stuff like this was just logistically impossible to do,” says Chan, director of digital health at the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai in New York City. “It opens up a brand-new area of research.”