The wide availability of internet-connected devices and new sensor technologies increasingly infuse longitudinal observational study designs and cohort studies. Simultaneously, the costly and time-consuming nature of traditional cohorts has given rise to alternative, technology-driven designs such as eCohorts, which remain inadequately described in the scientific literature.
The aim of this study was to outline and discuss what may constitute an eCohort, as well as to formulate a first working definition for health researchers based on a review of the relevant literature.
A two-staged review and synthesis process was performed comparing 10 traditional cohorts and 10 eCohorts across the six core steps in the life cycle of cohort designs.
eCohorts are a novel type of technology-driven cohort study that are not physically linked to a clinical setting, follow more relaxed and not necessarily random sampling procedures, are primarily based on self-reported and digitally collected data, and systematically aim to leverage the internet and digitalization to achieve flexibility, interactivity, patient-centeredness, and scalability. This approach comes with some hurdles such as data quality, generalizability, and privacy concerns.
eCohorts have similarities to their traditional counterparts; however, they are sufficiently distinct to be treated as a separate type of cohort design. The novelty of eCohorts is associated with a range of strengths and weaknesses that require further exploration.