Mobile Phone Ownership Is Not a Serious Barrier to Participation in Studies: Descriptive Study

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2018 Feb 19;6(2):e21. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.8123.


Background: Rather than providing participants with study-specific data collection devices, their personal mobile phones are increasingly being used as a means for collecting geolocation and ecological momentary assessment (EMA) data in public health research.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to (1) describe the sociodemographic characteristics of respondents to an online survey screener assessing eligibility to participate in a mixed methods study collecting geolocation and EMA data via the participants' personal mobile phones, and (2) examine how eligibility criteria requiring mobile phone ownership and an unlimited text messaging plan affected participant inclusion.

Methods: Adult (≥18 years) daily smokers were recruited via public advertisements, free weekly newspapers, printed flyers, and word of mouth. An online survey screener was used as the initial method of determining eligibility for study participation. The survey screened for twenty-eight inclusion criteria grouped into three categories, which included (1) cell phone use, (2) tobacco use, and (3) additional criteria.

Results: A total of 1003 individuals completed the online screener. Respondents were predominantly African American (605/1003, 60.3%) (60.4%), male (514/1003, 51.3%), and had a median age of 35 years (IQR 26-50). Nearly 50% (496/1003, 49.5%) were unemployed. Most smoked menthol cigarettes (699/1003, 69.7%), and had a median smoking history of 11 years (IQR 5-21). The majority owned a mobile phone (739/1003, 73.7%), could install apps (86.8%), used their mobile phone daily (89.5%), and had an unlimited text messaging plan (871/1003, 86.8%). Of those who completed the online screener, 302 were eligible to participate in the study; 163 were eligible after rescreening, and 117 were enrolled in the study. Compared to employed individuals, a significantly greater proportion of those who were unemployed were ineligible for the study based on mobile phone inclusion criteria (P<.001); yet, 46.4% (333/717) of the individuals who were unemployed met all mobile phone inclusion criteria.

Conclusions: Inclusion criteria requiring participants to use their personal mobile phones for data collection was not a major barrier to study participation for most respondents who completed the online screener, including those who were unemployed.

Trial registration: NCT02261363; (Archived by WebCite at

Keywords: United States; ecological momentary assessment; electronic cigarettes; observational study; online survey screener; smartphone ownership; smoking; tobacco products/utilization.

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