Objectives To describe interest, uptake, advantages and problems associated with the use of cellular phones in a study of incident STDs in a high-risk population.
Methods Study participants (SP) (N=357; 18–29 yrs; 91% African American; 19.9% incident STD at enrolment: Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Trichomoniasis) were enrolled in a 12-week study involving weekly STD sampling and three times daily electronic diary submission via cellular phone. SPs received 3 months of free unlimited calling, texting and internet browsing as part of study and an option to retain the phone at study conclusion.
Results Eligible SPs, the majority of whom were self-referred, were placed on a waiting list (volume range: 50–150 people) until space in the study was available (avg time: 4 months). About 50% of persons on the waiting list were not enrolled; common barriers included invalid contact information and no call back. Advantages to SP cell phone use included: paperless data collection (SPs who completed the study [N=261] submitted 89.99% of expected diaries), facilitated communication between SP and study staff, free cell minutes/texting and internet, and the option to keep phone at study conclusion (about 80%) as incentives to SPs. Challenges with cell phone use included issues with actual use (most common: failing to charge phone or poor care of phone), technical problems (most common: equipment failure [11.2%] and connectivity problems [21.1%]), theft (about 10%) and equipment breakage/damage [14.8%]). Once SP reported equipment issues, the time to replacement was short (average: 2 days).
Conclusion The data support the feasibility of using cellular phones in a high-risk population. Participants were not recruited for the waiting list, but self-referred. SPs were able to complete and submit surveys correctly and work with technical issues encountered.
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