New ResearchKit app will help track concussions

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center will begin testing whether a new free mobile app for iPhone and Apple Watch can help those with concussions better track their symptoms during the critical six weeks following their diagnosis. (A concussion is a mild form of a traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head or the body that shakes the brain inside the skull, which can damage brain tissue and disrupt brain function.)

Participants will complete three daily tasks: a five-question survey that captures symptoms, including balance issues, blurred vision, and drowsiness; a six-minute walk test; and tasks to measure concentration. The NYU Langone Concussion Tracker app is now available at the Apple App Store.

While the app isn’t intended to diagnose or treat disease, the larger goal of such surveillance is to catch cases where the initial injury caused a persistent problem that must be addressed, according to Laura Balcer, MD, co-director of NYU Lagone’s Concussion Center. With availability throughout the U.S., researchers hope the app will provide a more in-depth, daily picture of concussion nationwide, she adds.

The study uses the ResearchKit software framework — which is open source — designed by Apple to make it easier for researchers to gather data more frequently and more accurately from participants using iPhone, as well as for individuals to take part in studies by using their mobile devices. ResearchKit enables participants to easily complete tasks or submit surveys right from the app and delivers a simple way to present participants with an interactive informed consent process. 

The NYU Langone Concussion Tracker app will be used to track patient-reported symptoms during the six-week recovery period. Initial treatment usually includes rest, but experts want better, research-based measures of how much rest or activity is needed, or why some patients recover faster.

“By tracking these measurements among concussion patients on a daily basis, instead of every one to two weeks at their appointments, this app and the related research project will let us assess current treatment protocols in ways not before possible, including greater understanding of how a patients concussion symptoms improve over the course of their recovery," says Paul Testa, MD, chief medical information officer at NYU Langone who is also a study investigator.

All study participant information will automatically be “de-identified” and stored in a secure database, where it will be reviewed for research purposes only. Also, as part of this study, a separate group of 100 volunteers over the age of 18 will be recruited by NYU Langone's Concussion Center to come in for six weeks and complete the questionnaire and tasks in person using the app in the presence of a research coordinator. This data will be stored in NYU Langone's patient electronic health record (EHR)system, allowing patients to view their results in their MyChart account.

Participants who don’t have an iPhone and Apple Watch will receive a borrowed set that is returned at the completion of the study. This study was approved by NYU Langone's research Institutional Review Board and is funded by NYU Langone.