The Georgetown University Medical Center’s Institute for Reproductive Health partnered with Cycle Technologies to conduct a yearlong study in real time, the first of its kind, on a fertility tracking smartphone app to determine its effectiveness and accuracy in determining a woman’s chance for pregnancy, announced Feb. 7.
The app, called Dynamic Optimal Timing, or Dot, aggregates information without external equipmemt from thousands of women to provide users their likelihood of becoming pregnant on any given day. Preliminary trials conducted over 13 menstrual cycles showed that app to be approximately 96 percent effective in identifying a woman’s fertile window.
The study is funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. A previous study published June 2016, in which Georgetown’s department of obstetrics and gynecology participated, found that Dot is theoretically 96 to 98 percent effective at avoiding unintended pregnancy when used correctly.
According to the study protocol written by IRH Director Dr. Victoria Jennings, IRH Senior Research Officer Dominick Shattuck and IRH senior research professor Rebecca Simmons on Jan. 18, about 222 million women worldwide want to avoid pregnancy but are not using a contraceptive method.
These contraceptive needs could potentially be met by providing information about the days in a woman’s menstrual cycle that she is most likely to become pregnant.
“Making these methods available to women through their mobile phones can facilitate access,” the study reads.
The effort plans on recruiting as many as 1,200 women to participate in the study, and will follow them over the course of 13 menstrual periods. Recruitment began in January of this year, and preliminary results are expected in September 2018.
Dot was developed by Cycle Technologies to help women who seek to either prevent or plan a pregnancy. Cycle Technologies released the app in the Apple App Store in August 2015.
Jennings, who is leading the research, said the study will be the first efficacy study of a fertility app that aims to meet the standard criteria for typical contraceptive efficacy studies.
“We decided to work on something that was very evidence-based and to apply the same standards for an efficacy trial that would be applied to any other method of birth control,” Jennings said.
Cycle Technologies President Leslie Heyer said she believes this type of study is crucial to the development of effective fertility planning apps.
“Doing an efficacy study like this is critical,” Heyer said. “You really want to be able to compare the efficacy and understand how women are using it.”
Simmons said she believes the app increases reproductive education accessibility for those who are low-income or do not have access to reproductive health education.
“By creating an app that’s easily accessible by women all over the world inside and outside of the health system, we’ve essentially increased the availability — and hopefully the uptake — for women who don’t want to use hormonal methods but also don’t have the time or funds or education levels to really learn from an instructor who might teach them about natural methods of family planning,” Simmons said.
According to Jennings, her research team will also collect information on any social factors that may be related to an individual woman’s use of Dot, such as how the app might affect a couple’s relationship and if a woman tires of using the app.
Jennings said participants will be interviewed four times in the yearlong study, and will be prompted to answer survey questions on the app.
Cycle Technologies is a social impact company focused on women’s health. They have already developed two other fertility planning tools, Cyclebeads and 2Day Method.
According to Heyer, simplicity is the focus of all the company’s apps.
“We are very focused on providing couples with simple, effective tools that will help them manage their fertility,” Heyer said.
Heyer said Cycle Technologies hopes to use technological advances to both personalize fertility tracking and make it more accessible to women across the globe.
With Dot, Heyer said she hopes Cycle Technologies will be able to tailor information to each woman based on her menstrual cycle.
Heyer also mentioned that the development of smartphone technology makes fertility planning more accessible to women living in areas of the developing world.
“Being offered via smartphone means that we are able to access a lot more women,” Heyer said.
Simmons added that studying the app will provide information to women trying to decide on a method of birth control.
“It’s important that you evaluate it and test the efficacy of it because when a woman is deciding if she wants to use a method of family planning, she wants to know how effective it is in preventing pregnancy,” Simmons said.
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