Background It is widely recognised that adolescents are a population who encounter frequent changes in their daily lives. In order to capture these important oscillations, daily data are needed to accurately record and track changes in STD associated perceptions and behaviours that adolescents experience.
Methods Adolescent females 16-19 were enrolled in the study from a reproductive healthcare clinic. They are assigned a Palm Centro smartphone, and instructed to make daily diary entries on the phones using Pendragon software continuously for up to 18 months. Field staff meet with the participants every 2 weeks to hot sync the diary data from the phones, which is then compiled into a master database.
Results We examined the number of data points collected over all participants as compared with the costs of the phones, service plans, and person-power needed to complete data collection as well as the subjective opinions of the participants. In an ongoing study, 107 participants have received a phone, and the overall retention rate is 70%. The cost of the cell phone, voice plan and study staff support is approximately $105 per month for each participant. Participants have completed an average of 14 diary entries per month, with a total of 9916 collected. All participants who have completed 18 months in the study reported that the diary entry software was somewhat or very easy to use and 63% indicated that the cell phone was a reason that they remained in the study. Of the 185 phones that were distributed, 84 were reported broken or lost.
Conclusions Utilising this method of data collection has yielded rich data, unlike any currently available in the literature. While the cost of the data collection process may be substantial, there are distinct advantages to the use of cell phones. These benefits include, participant satisfaction, date and time stamped data, an alarm prompt, reduced participant burden, as well as affording interactive and privacy advantages similar to ACASI technology. There are several ways to tailor the collection process so that it may be accessible to a wider variety of studies. Greater use of this technology should be an area of interest in further adolescent STD research.