Smartphone app could change mental health treatment with real-time data

Scientists have developed a new smartphone app that detects changes in patients' behavioural patterns, and then sends the data to doctors in real time.


The system has the potential to greatly improve the response time and efficacy of clinical psychiatrists, researchers said.


Mental illness accounts for 90 per cent of all reported suicides and places the largest burden of any disease on social and economic infrastructures worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.


Dr Uri Nevo, research team engineer Keren Sela, and scientists from Tel Aviv University (TAU)'s Faculty of Engineering and Sagol School of Neuroscience have developed a new smartphone-based system that detects changes in patients' behavioural patterns, and then transmits them to professionals in real time.


By facilitating patient observation through smartphones, the technology also affords patients much-needed independence from hospitals, clinicians - and even family members.


"The diagnosis of mental health disease is based only on behavioural patterns," said Nevo.


"In some cases, a patient is discharged from the hospital into a vacuum, with no idea how to monitor his or her new state of mind. Because most people own smartphones today, we thought, 'Why not harness the smartphone, a reservoir of daily activities, to monitor behavioural patterns?" said Nevo.


In the trials conducted by researchers, the application was installed on the smartphones of 20 patients suffering from bipolar, unipolar/depressive, or schizo-affective disorders, as well as on the phones of 20 healthy participants.


Over the course of six months, the app acquired data from patients' phones and sent the information to distant computers, where advanced algorithms analysed the data to detect changes in patients' sleep, communication, mobility, and vocal patterns.


The researchers further developed a visualisation system that displayed the summarised information to psychiatrists, providing them with instant insight into the behavioural trends of their patients.


According to Nevo, a patient using the app has full control over who has access to the behavioural patterns recorded and analysed by it. "The content of calls and texts is completely ignored and never acquired or recorded, and any identifying parameters of the patient or of his contacts, are irreversibly masked and are obviously not used," said Nevo.


Psychiatrists in the trials reported that the system has already positively affected their interaction with patients, offering a useful objective "window" into the patient's daily routine.



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