Assessing Associations between COVID-19 Symptomology and Adverse Outcomes after Piloting Crowdsourced Data Collection: Cross-sectional Survey Study

Natalie Flaks-Manov, Jiawei Bai, Cindy Zhang, Anand Malpani, Stuart C. Ray, Casey Overby Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Crowdsourcing is a useful way to rapidly collect information on COVID-19 symptoms. However, there are potential biases and data quality issues given the population that chooses to participate in crowdsourcing activities and the common strategies used to screen participants based on their previous experience. Objective: The study aimed to (1) build a pipeline to enable data quality and population representation checks in a pilot setting prior to deploying a final survey to a crowdsourcing platform, (2) assess COVID-19 symptomology among survey respondents who report a previous positive COVID-19 result, and (3) assess associations of symptomology groups and underlying chronic conditions with adverse outcomes due to COVID-19. Methods: We developed a web-based survey and hosted it on the Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) crowdsourcing platform. We conducted a pilot study from August 5, 2020, to August 14, 2020, to refine the filtering criteria according to our needs before finalizing the pipeline. The final survey was posted from late August to December 31, 2020. Hierarchical cluster analyses were performed to identify COVID-19 symptomology groups, and logistic regression analyses were performed for hospitalization and mechanical ventilation outcomes. Finally, we performed a validation of study outcomes by comparing our findings to those reported in previous systematic reviews. Results: The crowdsourcing pipeline facilitated piloting our survey study and revising the filtering criteria to target specific MTurk experience levels and to include a second attention check. We collected data from 1254 COVID-19–positive survey participants and identified the following 6 symptomology groups: abdominal and bladder pain (Group 1); flu-like symptoms (loss of smell/taste/appetite; Group 2); hoarseness and sputum production (Group 3); joint aches and stomach cramps (Group 4); eye or skin dryness and vomiting (Group 5); and no symptoms (Group 6). The risk factors for adverse COVID-19 outcomes differed for different symptomology groups. The only risk factor that remained significant across 4 symptomology groups was influenza vaccine in the previous year (Group 1: odds ratio [OR] 6.22, 95% CI 2.32-17.92; Group 2: OR 2.35, 95% CI 1.74-3.18; Group 3: OR 3.7, 95% CI 1.32-10.98; Group 4: OR 4.44, 95% CI 1.53-14.49). Our findings regarding the symptoms of abdominal pain, cough, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and vomiting as risk factors for COVID-19 adverse outcomes were concordant with the findings of other researchers. Some high-risk symptoms found in our study, including bladder pain, dry eyes or skin, and loss of appetite, were reported less frequently by other researchers and were not considered previously in relation to COVID-19 adverse outcomes. Conclusions: We demonstrated that a crowdsourced approach was effective for collecting data to assess symptomology associated with COVID-19. Such a strategy may facilitate efficient assessments in a dynamic intersection between emerging infectious diseases, and societal and environmental changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere37507
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • COVID-19
  • adverse outcomes
  • coronavirus
  • crowdsourcing
  • data quality
  • symptomology
  • symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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