Currently accepted at: JMIR mHealth and uHealth
Date Submitted: Jan 29, 2018
Open Peer Review Period: Jan 29, 2018 - Jun 8, 2018
Date Accepted: Jun 8, 2018
(closed for review but you can still tweet)
Challenges and Potential Opportunities of Mobile Phone Call Detail Records in Health Research: Review
Call detail records (CDRs) are collected by mobile network operators in the course of providing their service. CDRs are increasingly being used in research along with other forms of big data and represent an emerging data type with potential for public good. Many jurisdictions have infrastructures for health data research that could benefit from the integration of CDRs with health data.
The objective of this study was to review how CDRs have been used in health research and to identify challenges and potential opportunities for their wider use in conjunction with health data.
A literature review was conducted using structured search terms making use of major search engines. Initially, 4066 items were identified. Following screening, 46 full text articles were included in the qualitative synthesis. Information extracted included research topic area, population of study, datasets used, information governance and ethical considerations, study findings, and data limitations.
The majority of published studies were focused on low-income and middle-income countries. Making use of the location element in CDRs, studies often modeled the transmission of infectious diseases or estimated population movement following natural disasters with a view to implementing interventions. CDRs were used in anonymized or aggregated form, and the process of gaining regulatory approvals varied with data provider and by jurisdiction. None included public views on the use of CDRs in health research.
Despite various challenges and limitations, anonymized mobile phone CDRs have been used successfully in health research. The use of aggregated data is a safeguard but also a further limitation. Greater opportunities could be gained if validated anonymized CDRs were integrated with routine health records at an individual level, provided that permissions and safeguards could be put in place. Further work is needed, including gaining public views, to develop an ethically founded framework for the use of CDRs in health research.
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