The next time your physician asks how you're feeling, you might want to pull out your smartphone and text a quick reaction.
A recent study by Mayo Clinic has found that using emojis, rather than traditional written emotional scales, helped researchers assess cancer patients' physical and emotional ups and downs.
Using iPhones and Apple Watches, the researchers equipped 115 patients with lymphoma with an Apple Watch and a study app they downloaded onto their iPhones.
Additionally, the researchers used an emoji scale — ranging from D: to :D — to gauge patients' physical and emotional well-being.
Carrie Thompson, the lead author who presented the study to the American Society of Hematology, said the Apple Watch provided data that correlated with patient reports of their health.
"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," Thompson, a hematologist at Mayo Clinic, said in a news release. "These quality of life factors play an important role in predicting survival and determining the best treatment options."
Typically, gauging a cancer patient's health relies heavily on paper questionnaires, which can be inaccurate, Thompson said in a news release.
Paper surveys may be subject to recall bias when patients are asked to remember symptoms accurately after a week or month has elapsed, Thompson said, while mobile technology asks patients to rate symptoms in real time.
Similarly, emojis can help populations with low health literacy, or the ability to process and understand health information and services.
"Emojis are a near universal, popular form of communication, understandable by diverse populations, including those with low health literacy," Thompson said in the news release. "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."
The Apple Watches also allowed researchers to track patients' activity level and observe that patient reports of their own activity level aligned with the physical function scoring scale.
Future studies will be needed to learn how the tool impacts the future, Thompson said.
"However, it is exciting, as there are many possibilities for how this tool may be used in gathering information from patients in the future," she said. "It is easy to use and understand. While this study was used in cancer patients, it could be helpful in other patient populations as well."
In the coming months, the research team will analyze the full data from 300 participants to better explain the differences between the technological surveys and paper surveys.