Study Information

OutSmart Flu is a research study. The following provides key information you need to know to decide if you want to take part in this research study.  Taking part in a research study is voluntary.  You do not need to take part in this study to receive healthcare for any flu-like symptoms you experience during the study.  Also, if you do join, you can stop taking part in this study at any time without any penalty.  After reading the information below, feel free to ask us any questions you may have about this study.

Research Study Title:  Crowd-sourced flu surveillance using Smartphones among UW-Madison students

Principal Investigator: Ajay K. Sethi, PhD, Associate Professor, Population Health Sciences

We invite you to join a research study on surveillance for flu-like symptoms on campus using Smartphones. Every year, flu season occurs from September to May with peaks in illness occurring during the winter months.  Students who get the flu are more likely to miss classes and exams and other parts of the college experience.  University Health Services (UHS) works with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor the flu epidemic on campus, but they rely on the students who come into the clinic with flu-like symptoms.  Since most people search their symptoms on the Internet before seeing a doctor, in 2010, Google showed that they could detect flu epidemics two weeks earlier than CDC, but they do not make the data available to specific communities. Earlier awareness of a flu epidemic on a campus like ours can help us take preventive measures such as washing our hands longer and more often, getting the flu vaccine, and getting extra rest.

The purpose of the research study
We created the OutSmart Flu Smartphone app to allow you to report any flu-like symptoms you might be experiencing or report if you are well.  On a daily basis, this information will be compiled to determine current flu activity on campus and will be made available to you.  Essentially, we are “crowd-sourcing” flu surveillance to find out if we can detect flu epidemics as early as Google and to see if this earlier awareness can help members of our community take action to stop the spread of flu on campus.

The research team will work with UHS to make sure that the information reported to you is accurate and easy for you to understand.  We will also provide you with helpful tips to prevent flu.

You are eligible to be in the study if you have a Smartphone, are at least 17 years old, and are an undergraduate student at UW Madison with an email address.

How long you will be in the study
This study starts August 2013 and ends May 2014.  You can enroll anytime during this period.

Main procedures if you take part in this study
If you agree to join the study, you will be invited to do the following:

  1. Take a 5-10 minute online survey at enrollment about your experience with and attitudes towards the flu.
  2. Download the OutSmart Flu app to your Smartphone and use it to report your symptoms and/or learn about flu activity and prevention on campus.  The app lets you to report symptoms whenever you experience them.  You can also report that you are feeling well anytime.
  3. Take a <1 minute survey every two weeks about strategies you are using to prevent the flu
  4. Take a 5-10 minute survey at the end of the flu season about your experience with the flu this year and using the OutSmart Flu app, whether you used it or not.

We will hold three $500 raffles during the school year; your odds of winning a raffle are greater the more you use the OutSmart Flu app.  You earn 10 points for completing your account profile and 1 point per day when you use the app to report whether you have experienced symptoms or not. You also earn 50 points for completing the short research survey at enrollment and 50 points for completing the one at the end of the study. You also earn 10 points for each completed survey about flu prevention strategies you are using. Each point you earn increases your chances of winning a raffle prize!

During the study period, we may add additional components to the research depending on our research findings. You may be invited to take part in one of these additional components. We will not contact you after May 2014.

Main risks of taking part in this research study
The OutSmart Flu app uses a platform developed by Survey Analytics LLC in Seattle, Washington.  The main risk of taking part in this study is a breach in confidentiality.  However, due to the security measures in place on the SurveyAnalytics platform, a breach is unlikely to occur. Your data will be encrypted while it is stored on the SurveyAnalytics website. Your data will not be encrypted while it is transferred to/from your phone and the SurveyAnalytics web site.  Your data will be encrypted while stored on your phone. However, once data is submitted to SurveyAnalytics, the data is removed from your Smartphone. The SurveyAnalytics privacy policy can be found at Only the Principal Investigator (Dr. Ajay Sethi, Associate Professor, Population Health Sciences) and one of the co-investigators (Ms. Christine Muganda, doctoral student in Population Health Sciences) will be able to access information on the SurveyAnalytics platform.

Your email address (NetID) will be your login for the app and also help us keep the various components of the study organized.  All information you provide us during the study will be kept confidential.  Once you have enrolled in the study, your name and NetID will be removed from all data collected in this study and will be replaced with a unique random number. These steps also help prevent breaches in confidentiality.

Learning that there is a flu epidemic on campus may be distressing, while learning that there are only a few cases of flu-like illness may cause you to feel a false sense of security. The research team is working with UHS Communications to assure that all information conveyed to you is accurate, easy to understand, and potentially helpful.

This is a research study that does not provide any healthcare to you.  If you experience flu-like symptoms or any other illness during the study period, you should seek healthcare as you would normally do.  If you report symptoms that may require medical attention, we will let you know in the OutSmart Flu app in response to specific symptoms you report.  However, we do not provide you with any healthcare and you are responsible for seeking any medical attention that might be needed.  Not joining this study does not prevent you from receiving any healthcare at UHS or your healthcare provider.

Possible benefits of taking part in this research study
If you are not experiencing flu-like illness yourself, you may find it helpful to know how much flu activity is occurring on campus so you can take the proper precautions to prevent getting the flu.  If you were to experience flu-like illness during the study, there may be no benefit to you to report it using the OutSmart Flu app.  However, symptom reports from you and others will help inform others of a possible flu epidemic on campus so they may be able to protect themselves from getting sick.  We will also provide you advice to seek healthcare, if necessary, when you experience symptoms and flu prevention tips when you do not, which you may find helpful.  Finally, your participation in this study, regardless of your experience with the flu this year or use of the OutSmart Flu app, will also help the research team understand how Smartphones can be used to conduct flu surveillance on the UW-Madison campus.

You will not be compensated for joining the study.  However, we will hold three raffles during the school year, which are described above.

Cost of Participation
The OutSmart Flu app is free; there is no charge to download or use the app. However, the normal cellular data charges specific to your cell phone plan will apply.

Alternatives to Participation
Your participation in this study is voluntary and there is no penalty for refusing to participate. If you choose to download the OutSmart Flu app and enroll in the study, you will be able to discontinue participation anytime.  Also, you can choose not to respond to push notifications sent by the research team, or turn them off, or uninstall the OutSmart Flu app altogether. You can also contact the research team at any time to withdraw your enrollment from the study.  There are no consequences for choosing to withdraw or not responding to push notifications. You are also not required to complete the non-symptom based online surveys at the start and end of the study.

How to contact the study staff
At anytime, you may contact the research team by sending an email to or leaving a message at 608-620-FLU6.  You can also contact the study PI, Dr. Ajay Sethi at 608-263-1756 or at

Who to call if you have questions about being a research subject
You may also call the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Patient Relations Representative at 608-263-8009.