Digital Connectedness in the Framingham Heart Study

While epidemiology has traditionally used cohort studies, this particular method has been criticized because it is time consuming, most findings are incremental, it’s inflexible, and frequently, the results cannot be validated.

While epidemiology has traditionally used cohort studies, this particular method has been criticized because it is time consuming, most findings are incremental, it’s inflexible, and frequently, the results cannot be validated.

New research models are necessary and may be available as they increase researchers' ability to reach patients easily.

A team of researchers associated with the Framingham Heart Study proposed that digital outreach may be an alternative to cohort studies, as it lets researchers collect data from subjects in their home environments.

They administered a digital survey to living participants over a year. Of the total living participants (8,096), 80.3% completed the survey. The results, reported in the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association, indicated that participants' receptiveness varies.

Among survey respondents, 87.4% (5,678) answered they used the Internet regularly. These respondents tended to be younger, more likely to have a job, and had fewer cardiovascular disease risk factors than those who did not use the Internet.

In total, 92.1% of respondents answered that they regularly use cell phones, but only 67.8% owned a smartphone. Compared to those who do not use smartphones, smartphone users were younger, more likely to have a job and to be college educated, and were less likely to have hypertension.

The researchers found that respondents used certain apps more often than others: 24.4% used health apps, 42.4% used computer games, and 48.8% use social networks, with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ most popular.

The researchers concluded that respondents’ digital connectedness varied considerably by participant age. Participants who were more likely to be digitally connected were younger, highly educated, and had fewer cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The researchers acknowledged that using technology to reach study participants is still limited — having technology and being willing to use it are two different things.

Many participants had technology, but participants who were willing to use it were younger and had fewer cardiovascular (CVD) risk factors, and these fundamentals could create bias.

The researchers also noted that in the future, researchers might want to leverage social networks to find participants.