Background: Epidemiologists and ecologists often collect data in the field and, on returning to their laboratory, enter their data into a database for further analysis. The recent introduction of mobile phones that utilise the open source Android operating system, and which include (among other features) both GPS and Google Maps, provide new opportunities for developing mobile phone applications, which in conjunction with web applications, allow two-way communication between field workers and their project databases.
Methodology: Here we describe a generic framework, consisting of mobile phone software, EpiCollect, and a web application located within www.spatialepidemiology.net. Data collected by multiple field workers can be submitted by phone, together with GPS data, to a common web database and can be displayed and analysed, along with previously collected data, using Google Maps (or Google Earth). Similarly, data from the web database can be requested and displayed on the mobile phone, again using Google Maps. Data filtering options allow the display of data submitted by the individual field workers or, for example, those data within certain values of a measured variable or a time period.
Conclusions: Data collection frameworks utilising mobile phones with data submission to and from central databases are widely applicable and can give a field worker similar display and analysis tools on their mobile phone that they would have if viewing the data in their laboratory via the web. We demonstrate their utility for epidemiological data collection and display, and briefly discuss their application in ecological and community data collection. Furthermore, such frameworks offer great potential for recruiting 'citizen scientists' to contribute data easily to central databases through their mobile phone.