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Engagement With mHealth COVID-19 Digital Biomarker Measurements in a Longitudinal Cohort Study: Mixed Methods Evaluation.

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BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the interest in implementing mobile health (mHealth) in population-based health studies, but evidence is lacking on engagement and adherence in studies. We conducted a fully remote study for ≥6 months tracking COVID-19 digital biomarkers and symptoms using a smartphone app nested within an existing cohort of adults. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to investigate participant characteristics associated with initial and sustained engagement in digital biomarker collection from a bespoke smartphone app and if engagement changed over time or because of COVID-19 factors and explore participants' reasons for consenting to the smartphone substudy and experiences related to initial and continued engagement. METHODS: Participants in the Fenland COVID-19 study were invited to the app substudy from August 2020 to October 2020 until study closure (April 30, 2021). Participants were asked to complete digital biomarker modules (oxygen saturation, body temperature, and resting heart rate [RHR]) and possible COVID-19 symptoms in the app 3 times per week. Participants manually entered the measurements, except RHR that was measured using the smartphone camera. Engagement was categorized by median weekly frequency of completing the 3 digital biomarker modules (categories: 0, 1-2, and ≥3 times per week). Sociodemographic and health characteristics of those who did or did not consent to the substudy and by engagement category were explored. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 35 participants who were purposively sampled by sex, age, educational attainment, and engagement category, and data were analyzed thematically; 63% (22/35) of the participants consented to the app substudy, and 37% (13/35) of the participants did not consent. RESULTS: A total of 62.61% (2524/4031) of Fenland COVID-19 study participants consented to the app substudy. Of those, 90.21% (2277/2524) completed the app onboarding process. Median time in the app substudy was 34.5 weeks (IQR 34-37) with no change in engagement from 0 to 3 months or 3 to 6 months. Completion rates (≥1 per week) across the study between digital biomarkers were similar (RHR: 56,517/77,664, 72.77%; temperature: 56,742/77,664, 73.06%; oxygen saturation: 57,088/77,664, 73.51%). Older age groups and lower managerial and intermediate occupations were associated with higher engagement, whereas working, being a current smoker, being overweight or obese, and high perceived stress were associated with lower engagement. Continued engagement was facilitated through routine and personal motivation, and poor engagement was caused by user error and app or equipment malfunctions preventing data input. From these results, we developed key recommendations to improve engagement in population-based mHealth studies. CONCLUSIONS: This mixed methods study demonstrated both high initial and sustained engagement in a large mHealth COVID-19 study over a ≥6-month period. Being nested in a known cohort study enabled the identification of participant characteristics and factors associated with engagement to inform future applications in population-based health research.



COVID-19, apps, biomarker, cohort studies, digital health, engagement, epidemiology, mobile health, mobile phone, pandemic, smartphone, Adult, Humans, Aged, Longitudinal Studies, Cohort Studies, Pandemics, COVID-19, Mobile Applications, Telemedicine

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J Med Internet Res

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JMIR Publications Inc.
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) (146281)
MRC (MC_UU_00006/1)
National Institute for Health and Care Research (IS-BRC-1215-20014)
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