Kathleen Morrison, Chronology.MD Project Director, Healthy Communities Foundation
Our study population of 30 participants was essentially a convenience sample. Our University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) clinical team posted flyers in the clinical offices. They also approached patients whom they felt would be interested in and capable of using an app designed to identify personally relevant observations of daily living (ODLs) and graph ODL input over time. We conducted an online survey in April 2012 to gain insight on the patient-reported utilization of our two applications — the Chronology app for ODL collection and the Crohnograph app for data visualization.
Our patient population was evenly split male/female; 61% were between the ages of 25-34, 25% were between 35-44 years, and 14% were between 45-54 years. Because the clinical practice is part of UCSF, it came as no surprise that several of the patients were graduate students or those employed in fields related to the technology industry. This was an extra bonus for us, because not only were many of the patients already comfortable with digital technology, but also they were also able to offer us great input and advice regarding the design and architecture of the apps we developed.
When asked whether they used the system, 93% reported yes. Those who did not use the system were either very sick during the course of the study (i.e., too ill to enter data), or very healthy (i.e., nothing to report; wanted to take a holiday from their illness). Overall, the ODLs that the patients felt were the most personally relevant to track were (in order of most frequently cited): abdominal pain, weight, energy, journal, stress, daily activity, medications, sleep, lab tests, and trigger foods. Our sample size is too small to make any statistically significant conclusions, but we did find some variation in the types of ODLs collected by age. Patients in the 25-34 years age group were more likely to report abdominal pain and weight as the two most relevant ODLs for them to share with their providers; patients in the 35-44 age group reported that the journal and abdominal pain were most relevant to share; and patients in the 45-54 age group unanimously reported stress and energy as the two most relevant ODLs to share with their providers. Perhaps more pertinent is that patients who had been diagnosed with Crohn’s for 10+ years reported abdominal pain, weight, energy, stress, daily activity, and sleep as the most relevant ODLs to share with their provider.
Several patient interviews revealed that patients found the connection between sleep, energy and stress to be extremely illuminating and helpful to monitor. In addition, many patients reported that they had no idea that increased sleep and daily activity had such a big impact on both their energy levels (increase) and stress levels (decrease), but also impacted their level of abdominal pain (decrease). One of the biometric devices patients used in this study, the Fitbit Body Monitor, tracked both sleep and steps taken (daily activity), which facilitated the ease of tracking of both of these ODLs.
Prior to the study, about half of the patients ages 25-34 years and 35-44 years monitored their symptoms, while only 25% of the patients aged 45-54 did so. After the study, 100% of the patients ages 15-34 and 45-54 reported that they are more likely to monitor their symptoms on a regular basis. About 50% of the patients ages 35-44 years reported that they are more likely to monitor their symptoms on a regular basis after the study.
At the beginning of the study, the cohort was informed that we would be beta testing a new technology, which would have bugs and glitches. Although developing and testing a new system was challenging, the patients were positive, patient, and shared a great deal of insight with our team. This study set out to identify ODLs relevant to patients with Crohn’s disease and to discern whether the visual narrative of these ODLs would be helpful in promoting patient-provider communication and collaboration. Based on our evaluation, we have established that our patient participants felt that they need a technology like this to track their symptoms, identify connections, and be better informed and prepared when meeting with their providers.