New Survey Tool Unlocks Actionable Patient Data in 22 Questions

Jared Kaltwasser

SymTrak is designed to capture important patient data that often go unnoticed.

Patients are accustomed to being asked about symptoms when they visit a hospital or clinic, but new research suggests that optimizing these surveys and tracking responses over time can better enable providers to detect and follow underlying conditions in critical populations.

Investigators from the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University have developed a new symptom-tracking tool that leverages patient-reported data to create a fuller picture of patient health. Last month, the team released a study suggesting that the tool, known as SymTrak, can serve as a valid means of tracking changes in patient symptoms over time.

“SymTrak is a measure that assesses some of the most common problems in older adults, including pain, sleep, depression, anxiety, memory changes, vision and hearing problems and incontinence, among others,” said Patrick O. Monahan, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a research scientist at the Regenstrief Institute. “Instead of using multiple different measures to assess these different problems, SymTrak assesses them in a single 22-item measure — ‘a one-stop shopping’ [patient-reported outcomes form] for older adults.”

In the study, 600 participants received the 22-question survey by phone at baseline and again after three months. A random sample of patients also took the survey 24 hours after baseline to help researchers understand the reliability of the baseline findings.

The results suggested that the survey effectively identified when patients moved from one health category to another in measures such as the Health Utilities Index Mark 3 classification symptoms.

Patrick O. Monahan, M.D., Ph.D.

Investigators developed the survey based on input from focus groups of patients, caregivers and providers. Researchers used those responses to craft not only the questions in the SymTrak survey, but also the response options given to patients.

Clinical care assistants, patients and caregivers also underwent personal interviews, which helped ensure that the language used in the assessment was clear and easy to understand — and that it resulted in actionable information.

Monahan said SymTrak is important because it unlocks patient data that are impossible to obtain without such input.

“Patient-reported outcomes are recognized as increasingly important, and we are using them for a variety of conditions in which only the patient can report the condition (that is, there is no laboratory test or other measure independent of the patient),” Monahan told Inside Digital Health™. “Such conditions include depression, pain, quality of life and other symptoms.”

The tool can help identify underlying conditions and ascertain the efficacy of therapies.

Monahan said the length of the survey makes it a feasible option for quick, regular use. He also envisions it for use in clinical research.

Co-author Malaz Boustani, M.D., MPH, also of the Indiana University School of Medicine and Regenstrief Institute, said this type of tool aligns with broader goals of improving patient care at scale.

“The SymTrak’s multifunctional and practical ability to monitor the burden of symptoms among patients with multiple comorbidities is the building block for developing next-generation population health management,” Boustani said in a press release.

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