One of the first patients enrolled in the study is a young runner with Crohn’s disease. “He wants to find the right combination of medication, lifestyle, and diet that will enable him to perform at the same level on his cross-country team as he did before he got sick,” says Margolis. Regular text messages ask him to report whether he has run that day and at what pace. Over time, that data, along with information on the medication he is taking, should reveal whether the drugs he’s taking help or hurt his running stamina. “He still thinks his stamina is not where it was before, but right now we can’t tell if it’s his disease or not being able to train,” says Margolis.
A more advanced program for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has already shown some success. Jeff Epstein, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s, has developed Web-based software that distributes questionnaires to parents and teachers and analyzes the results. Doctors prescribing stimulant medication to children with ADHD are supposed to objectively monitor the effects of the medication to see if it’s adequately controlling symptoms, or if children are experiencing side effects such as a lack of appetite or trouble sleeping. But they almost never do this, says Epstein. The questionnaires cover the child’s mental status, physical symptoms, quality of relationships, and success in school.
Epstein says parents and teachers seem to like the tool. An ongoing study is examining whether it improves children’s outcomes as well.