Boston Children’s Hospital Is Conducting a Hepatitis C Study via Patients’ Phones

Using a new app called C Tracker, the hospital is gathering real-time information about how hepatitis C affects patients.

Boston Children’s Hospital is gathering data for a new hepatitis C study from an unconventional source: patients’ iPhones.

The hospital is using a free app called C Tracker, which was developed by its own Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP), to see, in real time, how patients deal with hepatitis C in day-to-day life. Each participant will be asked to record general information—things like medication use, exercise, and diet—and answer specific questions, like how much work he or she has recently missed because of hepatitis C. Then, researchers from the hospital will use that information to try to improve hepatitis C treatment and improve quality of life for those who have the disease.

In a statement, CHIP’s director Ken Mandl says C Tracker will provide more valuable, actionable information to doctors than they could glean from traditional research methods:

“By and large, the data we have now about hepatitis C treatments come from traditional clinical trials. With C Tracker, we can listen to the patient voice to learn how people live with hepatitis in the real world. C Tracker will evaluate the impact of hepatitis C on people’s lives in ways we never could before. It turns research participation into a patient-driven, democratic endeavor.”

Though conducting a study via iPhones is a fairly novel idea, the trend of using data to improve health is nothing new. From group fitness classes that incorporate heart rate monitors to a device that turns smartphones into blood sugar monitors, technology is everywhere in the health field. And, Mandl says, using personal technology in medical research could bring huge benefits.

“Traditional clinical trials are plagued by abysmal accrual rates, slowing progress in discovering cures,” Mandl says in the statement. “We foresee a future where ResearchKit apps like C Tracker lower the barrier to participation and speed medical progress.”