UCLA/UCSF look to build research database from health app data

Healthcare researchers should be rubbing their hands together with glee over the Open mHealth Project's latest initiative.

The University of California Los Angeles and UC San Francisco-developed program, which pushes for open architecture among mobile health apps, is creating a central database to collect smartphone users' health information.

     Deborah Estrin

The idea for the database is for users' information -- when they're involved in a participating study -- to  be transmitted automatically to a central database that can be shared with researchers around the globe. UCLA/UCSF researchers already have five studies of their own underway, from tracking activity levels among overweight new mothers to cell phone interventions for patients with HIV, and hope to connect with other studies.

"Right now, most of the mobile health applications send data back to a proprietary website which could sell the information back to you or to others," Deborah Estrin, an Open mHealth researcher tells MIT's Technology Review.

In response, Open mHealth has begun building an open-architecture database that can accept information from any mobile device. Estrin estimates that if even a small portion of mobile users with a specific condition such as depression participate in a study, it could yield hundreds of thousands of particpants. Open mHealth also says it will allow developers to create new apps or functionality using the data.

For security, the users have a "personal data vault" where their data is collected. Users can remove items from the vault, or change settings so their phones only monitor them during certain times of the day, Technology Review reports.

To learn more:
- read Target Health's blog
- check out the Technology Review story
- get more detail from UCLA
- learn more about the Open mHealth's pilot projects

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