Can a smartphone app generate an early warning for an outbreak of coronavirus, flu, colds or other infections? A project funded by the Pentagon with an assist from the University of Washington aims to find out.
UW Medicine is recruiting 25,000 people nationwide for an app-based experiment called HIPPOCRATIC (which stands for Health and Injury Prediction and Prevention Using Complex Reasoning and Analytic Techniques Integrated on a Cellphone App … with a bit of poetic license.).
The app is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which serves as the Pentagon’s technological think tank.
If the app does what researchers hope, it could provide data for quicker medical diagnoses, and keep people who are ill from returning to school, work or military duty too soon.
Patricia Arean, a psychiatry professor at UW Medicine who’s in charge of the project’s rollout, said the coronavirus outbreak is likely to give the app a fast start — and not just because everyone’s thinking about epidemics nowadays.
“It’s actually a really useful time for us to collect information to build out the predictive signal, or the predictive algorithm from the phone so that we can start to test it again in the fall and in the winter months,” she said in a news release.
Users of the app will be asked to fill out brief surveys about sleep and activity levels. They’ll have to check in daily about any symptoms they’re experiencing, using a click-through questionnaire that takes about a minute to complete. Data relating to phone usage and environmental conditions (such as ambient light and temperature) will be collected automatically, and there’s also the option to provide location data, voice samples and selfies.
All that information will be fed into a computer model that will look for correlations between the inputs and infectious disease.
“This is a huge opportunity for us to get a sense as to whether or not phones could basically become a personal screener for an illness without having to go to a drive-in screening clinic or to a hospital to figure out if a pandemic is blooming,” Arean said.
UW Medicine is teaming up with Charles River Analytics, Assured Information Security, Kryptowire and Tozny on the HIPPOCRATIC project, which will also collect data for diagnosing head injuries. The team was selected in 2018 for a four-year DARPA contract that’s valued at more than $15.5 million if all the options are exercised.
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At the time the contract was announced, principal investigator Bethany Bracken, who is a senior scientist at Charles River, said the app could “lead to a revolutionary breakthrough in health care delivery for both warfighters and civilians.”
“While our team is excited about the potential medical outcomes, we are also excited to demonstrate the right way to protect end-user information and privacy when applying advanced analytics,” Bracken said in a news release.
The app experiment will collect data from four cohorts of participants over the course of two years. Participants will be asked to use the app for 12 weeks at a time. If they stick with it and answer the surveys, they’ll earn Amazon gift codes.
All you need is an Android or Apple smartphone with an internet connection, plus English-language proficiency.
“This is actually a very simple study to participate in,” Arean said. “You don’t have to come to the university. You don’t even have to talk to anybody. Everything is done through this mobile application that you download through your phone. It’s actually the perfect research study, because you can still adhere to the social distancing rules that are out there right now.”
Visit the HIPPOCRATIC website to get more information about the study. You must be aged 19 or older to sign up. Participants who are selected for the study will be given further instructions about downloading the app.
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