Researchers use emojis to gauge patient health

Researchers from Mayo Clinic have found that using emojis instead of a conventional emotional scale could help physicians in assessing physical and mental health and overall quality of life. Findings were presented to the American Society of Hematology.

Identifying a patient’s quality of life can be a long process full of questionnaires that could end up being inaccurate. In this study, researchers evaluated the feasibility of using wearable technology to collect accurate data on individuals with cancer.

"Cancer patients receive complex medical care, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted agents that may result in physical, emotional, financial and spiritual consequences that can negatively impact quality of life and the ability to perform certain activities without help," said lead author Carrie Thompson, MD, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic. "These quality of life factors play an important role in predicting survival and determining the best treatment options."

The study enrolled 115 patients with lymphoma and multiple myeloma with life spans of less than five years and had owned an iPhone. At baseline, participants were asked questions regarding fatigue, sleep, social role, function and quality of life and were provided with an Apple Watch. Additionally, researchers developed two emoji scales to measure quality of life.

"Emojis are a near universal, popular form of communication, understandable by diverse populations, including those with low health literacy," said Thompson. "There are several studies that attempt to predict individual well-being based on analysis of social media postings on Facebook and Twitter, but these studies do not focus on emojis as a mechanism for patients to express how they are feeling on a given day. If we can demonstrate that simple emojis are a valid and reliable measure of patient well-being, it could transform the way patient well-being assessments are accomplished."

Results showed significant correlations between patient-reported outcome measures and activity data, with the strongest correlation between steps per day and physical function. Additionally, emoji responses were associated with patient-reported outcomes.

"While further research is needed to validate the use of wearable activity monitors in cancer care, we believe this technology has the potential to improve the way we care for patients," said Thompson. "In the future, it may be possible to monitor patient symptoms and communicate with patients between appointments via wearable technology."