In December 2020, the Innovative & Digital Health Accelerator at Boston Children’s Hospital launched a new health study in collaboration with Google. The Respiratory Health Study is the inaugural study available in the Google Health Studies app (available for download in the Google Play Store (1)). Google Health Studies provides Android users a way to contribute to health research led by academic institutions simply and securely through users’ phones. Google protects individuals’ privacy by only collecting aggregate, population-level data, so no private health information or mobility data will leave the user’s device (2). In addition to the high level of participants’ privacy, all research findings will be at the population level in aggregate.
The Respiratory Health Study is a prospective observational study and its purpose is to provide near real-time crowdsourced insights on influenza-like illness (ILI), coronavirus-like illness (CLI), and non-specific respiratory illness (NSRI) by community, county, state, region, and nation (United States). Additionally, the study aims to better understand the relationship between risk factors (e.g., demographics, household information, medical conditions, mobility patterns) and respiratory illnesses, such as ILI, CLI, and NSRI.
The Respiratory Health Study is open for enrollment to adults in the United States. To participate, users download the Google Health Studies app and enroll in the Respiratory Health Study through their Android phone. Participants must complete a one-time enrollment survey and grant the app permission to access the device’s location services. If the enrollment survey is not completed or location services are not granted, the user cannot contribute data to the study. Mobility data is collected passively through the Android device to (1) track the potential spread of ILI, CLI, and NSRI and (2) identify specific behaviors associated with an increased or decreased risk of developing respiratory illnesses (3).
Participants receive a push notification on their phone to complete a short weekly survey. Through this survey, users self-report any symptoms, test results, influenza and coronavirus vaccination status, and whether they practiced respiratory disease prevention strategies (e.g., mask wearing and social distancing) during the previous seven days. These responses, in combination with user mobility data, aim to determine whether participants’ behavior changes due to the presence of symptoms, respiratory disease test results, or vaccination status.
Collaborating with Google and hosting the study on their app, Boston Children’s is uniquely positioned to analyze population-level data on respiratory disease prevention strategies and mobility practices during COVID-19. The study aims to derive critical insights to curb the pandemic and to identify any patterns in participants’ behavior.