August 12th, 2010
04:31 PM ET

Smart phones feed medical researchers info

Smart phones are getting smarter– they are being  used in medical studies. Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center used smart phones to get real-time data from participants who were trying to quit smoking.

This new way of collecting data is called ecological momentary assessment, or EMA.  For the smoking study, when participants experienced a craving they turned on their phones and it prompted them to answer a series of questions about their mood, thoughts, location, stress level, whom they were with and what they were doing."We started to use these to really try to understand when people are experiencing cravings," says Dr. David Wetter, the lead author of the ongoing study.  "We can also do what are called random assessments, a computer starts beeping at you at random parts of your day, and it compares moments you are experiencing cravings, to understand what differs between the two situations."

Researchers can compare the random and user-initiated situations and know more about an individual’s addiction and cravings so that they can offer better treatment.  This allows researchers to "really look at the kinds of interpersonal factors, and contextual factors that really drive smoking," says Wetter.

"This multiple daily assessment really lets us look at patterns in their lives that maybe very important," says Wetter. For example, if a patient has initiated contact due to a craving, the smart phone allows the possibility for a counselor or a friend to call  and help the person deal with it to avoid a relapse.

Wetter says the increased availability of smart phone devices allows researchers to examine minority populations that may have been overlooked before. This particular smoking study focuses on Latinos.  "There are many more Latino smokers that smoke two to three times per week, we really don't understand what drives that at all and it really challenges what drives nicotine addiction," says Wetter.

The technology also improves the speed and accuracy of research information.  Wetter says it provides benefits for patients too.  "The huge advantage of smart phones is that they can provide real-time support, advice, and information directly to participants, to smokers, to folks working on their diet, that they simply would not be able to get 10 years ago."

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Jae-Ho Lee

    Excelent! I'm expecting goo result.

    August 13, 2010 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. 3gdoctor

    All of this functionality can be experienced with more basic feature phones which are much cheaper and more accessible than smartphones. Or am I missing something?

    August 13, 2010 at 20:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.