Public agreement on smartphone and wearable data for cardiovascular research 

04 Apr 2024

The BHF Data Science Centre has found broad public support for the use of data from smartphone and wearable devices in research. 

In the first study of its kind, we combined public and professional surveys to identify smartphone and wearable data that are both important to health research and acceptable to the public. This paves the way for studies of smartphone and wearable data in cardiovascular research. 

Smartphones and wearables, such as fitness watches, collect information that is highly relevant to health research, such as heart rate and measures of physical activity, such as steps per day. Linking this to a person’s NHS data could provide new insights into the causes and effects of cardiovascular diseases, and improve disease prediction, diagnosis and treatment.  

We therefore set out to understand what types of smartphone and wearable data are both important for research to improve cardiovascular health and also acceptable for sharing by the public through two surveys. 

  • The first asked researchers and health care professionals to rate each type of data by importance 
  • The second asked members of the public how they would feel about sharing each type of data 

This study was codesigned with a group of public and patient representatives, who placed particular importance on ensuring the language in the public survey was accessible and understandable, and that the survey had broad reach across the UK population. 

The most important smartphone and wearable data identified by researchers for cardiovascular research included heart rate, heart rhythm, activity, and sleep. Over 75% of the public said they would be in favour of sharing these most important types of data. 

Achieving real improvements in cardiovascular health will require the creation of a very large collection of data that is representative of the entire UK population. Public trust and support will be essential to this. Involvement of the public in this study is a starting point, but future studies need to actively engage all sectors of the population and involve the public as partners, particularly in design of public-facing materials, recruitment strategies and ensuring the security of personal data. 

This list of smartphone and wearable data can serve as a starting point for the creation of a large-scale dataset for cardiovascular research. The BHF Data Science Centre now aims to address the funding, infrastructure and technical challenges involved and in making this vision a reality. 

Read the full report here

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