Roche, a Swiss healthcare company, designed the Floodlight Open (iOS) app to gather more information about the daily lives of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Roche thinks the app can also change how patients interact with their doctors.
MS is a debilitating disease that attacks myelin, the protective nerve fiber covering, causing communication problems between a person's brain and the rest of their body.
Floodlight is a study that allows participants, physicians, and scientists to monitor MS symptoms over time through a smartphone app. By tracking how the user performs digital tasks over time, MS specialists can gain a better understanding of the effects of MS on the brain, hands, and body.
With more information and data, scientists and developers can create practical tools to improve the lives of those with MS.
"Floodlight Open is powered by you. The more we know about your personal journey, the more we may learn about MS. Each data point from each person contributes to a unique and open dataset designed to help move MS research forward," Floodlight's description reads.
Using simple games and tasks, Floodlight measures your performance. The activities are adapted from traditional clinical assessments.
In the app, you can record your mood and match symbols to test how quickly you process information. The Squeeze a Tomato game measures hand-eye coordination while Draw a Shape measures the speed and accuracy of your hands.
Your walking gait and ability to change directions is measured in U-Turn. Taking a quick two-minute walk records stamina and mobility. If you stand still for 30 seconds, Floodlight notes your posture and stability.
Developers call their process "passive monitoring." Users with MS can record and track their symptoms over time. Often times, patients only see their MS specialists twice a year, which means small changes might go unreported.
To participate in the study, you must be over 18 years of age and live in the US. You don't have to have MS, though. Developers are interested in having participants without MS to serve as a control group. Those with MS don't need to supply their medication list.
Floodlight's developers promise as much privacy as possible for those on the app. To participate in the study, you have to give you birthday, gender, diagnosis, height, weight, country of origin, how you found out about the study, and your smartphone platform. Those with MS don't need to supply their medication list.
The study is anonymous, each participant is assigned a number, and the user's shared information is coded. If you delete the app or withdraw from the study no further data will be collected.
Some people are hesitant to get involved in Roche's study, hoping for a more solid promise of anonymity. The company intends to get 10,000 participants to study over five years. But five months since the study's start, it has only drawn 400 users.
Some are already getting usable feedback, though. Bloomberg interviewed Stephanie Buxhoeveden, a woman with MS using Floodlight. Though Buxhoeveden is just one participant, she's been tracking her disease for three months. By using Floodlight, she discovered that her MS acts up on hot and humid days.
Roche is part of a trend to use people's phones as diagnostic tools. The newest Apple Watch includes new heart health technology that can report arrhythmias. The i-Prognosis app can detect early onset Parkinson's Disease and some apps are in development that can recognize stroke symptoms.
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