During his State of the of the Union address last January, President Obama called for the launching of a Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), intended to use Big Data approaches to find new ways to treat and cure diseases “like cancer and diabetes.” The National Institute of Health has taken up the charge, with the goal of including more than 1 million Americans in a longitudinal health study. In a post on the PMI blog, the NIH called for comments by the public on the use of smartphones and other wireless devices to gather data from volunteer participants:

Large studies on health and disease typically collect health and lifestyle data on participant volunteers from medical records and extensive phone or paper surveys.  The Precision Medicine Initiative is considering using smart phone and wireless technologies to collect some of this information.   These devices could provide the ability to track health behaviors and environmental exposures much more frequently with minimal burden on participants.  For example, participant volunteers could respond to a few questions multiple times per day via their smart phones about their health status, activities, emotional states, etc.  Location information from their smart phone or wearable device could be used to assess daily activity and also detect exposure to air pollution, etc.  Wearable devices can assess heart rate and other physiological states as well as physical activity levels. Smartphones also could keep participants connected to the study, providing feedback on the data they provide as well as the aggregate data and findings of the study.

The blog goes on to pose a number of questions about what sort of devices people might be willing to use, what information they would be willing to share, and what forms of participation might be too annoying or inconvenient. If you have thoughts on the subject, here’s your opportunity to weigh in with your own comments.