A new scoping review by VCU School of Medicine and Massey Cancer Center researchers described this research methodology in
EMA is a research method that repeatedly samples subjects in their natural environment to better understand their experiences over a period of time.
EMA has the potential to create a rich dataset allowing researchers and clinicians to identify behavioral trends and contributing factors.
This differs from other types of health behavior research that rely on retrospective feedback given directly to researchers or clinicians at a single point in time. EMAs minimize recall bias and can improve engagement among participants.
The authors first identified an initial set of 129 studies in their preliminary search, of which 15 met their eligibility criteria for the scoping review. The eligible studies included a total of 952 participants, with the smallest sample size being 12 and the largest being 120.
Researchers found that EMA methodology is both feasible and acceptable at high rates among MSM, especially when examining psychological and behavioral outcomes such as negative or positive affect, risky sexual behavior, and substance use.
“Ecological momentary assessment is a relatively novel approach to health behavior research, so I wanted to see what had been done, what were the best practices and what gaps existed in the research in order to inform future studies as well as behavioral and therapeutic interventions for MSM and other populations,” says Viktor Clark, M.S., lead author on the study and doctoral student in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at VCU School of Medicine.
Though EMAs have traditionally used methods such as written diaries and phone calls to sample participants over a period of time, now micro surveys are delivered through text messages or apps to collect extensive longitudinal data over time.
This helps in better understanding of patterns and changes in behavior. EMAs have the potential to help health-care professionals predict and intervene to prevent negative health outcomes in a variety of populations.
Developing evidence-based best practices for designing future EMAs is very important, especially when delivered via smartphone or computer as there are unique challenges and opportunities associated with these platforms.
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