Massachusetts General expands MoodNetwork for bipolar, depression treatment research

Massachusetts General Hospital is teaming up with a behavioral signals analytics vendor on an mHealth initiative to help patients with depression and bipolar disorder.

The federally-funded $1.8-million effort, announced last week, taps MGH's nationwide patient research network, MoodNetwork, and is open to 1,000 network participants. Cogito Companion audio app will be used for real-time recording of patient mood activity and behavioral changes.

Most mood data is gathered through periodic surveys, a process which presents limitations, according to MGH MoodNetwork leaders.

"Self-report is notoriously unreliable. If the purpose is to detect early signs of relapse into depression or mania, reliable and sensitive methods of detection are key. The Cogito app combined with the smartphone holds that promise," Thilo Deckersbach, M.D., associate director of the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program and site principal investigator of the study, told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview.

The app monitors behaviors associated with people getting depressed or becoming manic, Deckersbach says.

"If a person gets depressed they tend to communicate less and be less active. This translates into less texting, making phone calls, etc. The opposite is true when people get manic," he says.

The Cogito app is the latest of a growing number of tools already actively helping detect and treat mental illness, as FierceMobileHealthcare has reported.

In the past several years the mental health industry has increasingly turned to mobile devices and apps for treatment and diagnostic needs. Columbia and Duke universities recently announced they are partnering with text-therapy vendor Talkspace to investigate how text technology can enhance mental health treatment compared to in-person therapy interaction, according to MedCity News.

MoodNetwork is the biggest online portal community focused on bipolar and depression disorders. The network study participants, using the Cogito app, will provide real-time insight on daily life, from social connectedness to fatigue. The app's predictive features will help MSG leaders analyze data with the goal of improving long-term care and treatment. Cogito's tools are also being used to help diagnose and prevent suicide among U.S. veterans, according to the announcement.

While mHealth devices and apps can pose a challenge for specific patient populations, such as the elderly, Deckersbach notes it is not the challenge it once was.

"Yes, geriatric patients may use smart phones less, but this is rapidly changing and clinicians will adapt as this technology eases their burden caring for patients," he said.

For more information:
- read the announcement

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