The huge increase in smartphone use heralds an enormous opportunity for epidemiology research, but there is limited evidence regarding long-term engagement and attrition in mobile health (mHealth) studies.
The objective of this study was to examine how representative the Cloudy with a Chance of Pain study population is of wider chronic-pain populations and to explore patterns of engagement among participants during the first 6 months of the study.
Participants in the United Kingdom who had chronic pain (≥3 months) and enrolled between January 20, 2016 and January 29, 2016 were eligible if they were aged ≥17 years and used the study app to report any of 10 pain-related symptoms during the study period. Participant characteristics were compared with data from the Health Survey for England (HSE) 2011. Distinct clusters of engagement over time were determined using first-order hidden Markov models, and participant characteristics were compared between the clusters.
Compared with the data from the HSE, our sample comprised a higher proportion of women (80.51%, 5129/6370 vs 55.61%, 4782/8599) and fewer persons at the extremes of age (16-34 and 75+). Four clusters of engagement were identified: high (13.60%, 865/6370), moderate (21.76%, 1384/6370), low (39.35%, 2503/6370), and tourists (25.44%, 1618/6370), between which median days of data entry ranged from 1 (interquartile range; IQR: 1-1; tourist) to 149 (124-163; high). Those in the high-engagement cluster were typically older, whereas those in the tourist cluster were mostly male. Few other differences distinguished the clusters.
Cloudy with a Chance of Pain demonstrates a rapid and successful recruitment of a large, representative, and engaged sample of people with chronic pain and provides strong evidence to suggest that smartphones could provide a viable alternative to traditional data collection methods.