Engaging a national-scale cohort of smart thermometer users in participatory surveillance

Yi Ju Tseng, Karen L. Olson, Danielle Bloch, Kenneth D. Mandl*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review


Participatory surveillance systems crowdsource individual reports to rapidly assess population health phenomena. The value of these systems increases when more people join and persistently contribute. We examine the level of and factors associated with engagement in participatory surveillance among a retrospective, national-scale cohort of individuals using smartphone-connected thermometers with a companion app that allows them to report demographic and symptom information. Between January 1, 2020 and October 29, 2022, 1,325,845 participants took 20,617,435 temperature readings, yielding 3,529,377 episodes of consecutive readings. There were 1,735,805 (49.2%) episodes with self-reported symptoms (including reports of no symptoms). Compared to before the pandemic, participants were more likely to report their symptoms during pandemic waves, especially after the winter wave began (September 13, 2020) (OR across pandemic periods range from 3.0 to 4.0). Further, symptoms were more likely to be reported during febrile episodes (OR = 2.6, 95% CI = 2.6–2.6), and for new participants, during their first episode (OR = 2.4, 95% CI = 2.4–2.5). Compared with participants aged 50–65 years old, participants over 65 years were less likely to report their symptoms (OR = 0.3, 95% CI = 0.3–0.3). Participants in a household with both adults and children (OR = 1.6 [1.6–1.7]) were more likely to report symptoms. We find that the use of smart thermometers with companion apps facilitates the collection of data on a large, national scale, and provides real time insight into transmissible disease phenomena. Nearly half of individuals using these devices are willing to report their symptoms after taking their temperature, although participation varies among individuals and over pandemic stages.

Original languageEnglish
Article number175
Pages (from-to)175
Journalnpj Digital Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 20 09 2023
Externally publishedYes

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