Kvedar: Mobile mood trackers are promising mHealth trend

Mood tracking apps could be the next phase of "self-health" mobile technologies, according to a blog post by Joseph Kvedar, M.D., founder and director of Partners HealthCare's Center for Connected Health.

"Up until now we've thought about tracking mainly vital signs [heart rate, blood pressure, weight, blood glucose] and more recently activity, via the myriad of devices for this purpose," writes Kvedar, who also is a member of the FierceHealthIT Editorial Advisory Board. "We need to expand tracking beyond vital signs and start to collect data that provides further context for your state of health. ... Just think of how much more powerful it will be for your primary care doctor to not only know your blood pressure and activity level, but your mood and state of motivation."

In October, Partners HealthCare's Center for Connected Health announced the launch of Wellocracy, an online guide to help consumers use mHealth applications such as mobile mood apps that track a person's emotions or happiness throughout the day. "The app prompts you to indicate your feelings and other elements that may be influencing your mood such as what you are doing, who you are with and where you are," states the Wellocracy website, which includes a Mobile Mood Apps Chart that compares trackers. "Over time you can begin to see how certain elements in your life affect your mood positively or negatively."

While the mood trackers currently available are "pretty primitive at the moment," Kvedar argues that one app in particular, Emotion Sense, allows a person to enter their mood and also track frequency of phone calls, texts, and other smartphone activity to correlate with their own data entry, growing "smarter" and predicting a person's mood from associate data. Another firm, he says--Ginger.io--is working on software that can monitor an individual's mobile activities and infer their state of wellness. The company's initial effort centers around depression, but they will go beyond that, he writes.   

"Emotion Sense and Ginger.io represent the exciting trend in mood tracking, moving as we did in physiologic tracking from active data input to passive 'wear and forget' tracking," Kvedar says. "This type of analysis, combined with physiologic tracking, should lead to very insightful snapshots of your health without you having to enter anything."

Mood trackers "have a few iterations to go before they get really good" and "then we have to develop the analytics to merge their data with physiologic data," he asserts. "Finally, it would be really handy to get an analysis of an individual's state of motivation," which he points out is slightly different than mood.  

"We've found motivation or readiness to change to be really important in targeting messages to chronically ill individuals to help them improve their health," Kvedar adds. "Right now all we can do is ask. It'd be great to infer motivational state from mobile phone data."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense added new features to its smartphone app designed to monitor a soldier's long-term emotional health. The mobile app, called the T2 Mood Tracker, enables users to send their personal information to their home computers and to share it with their healthcare providers.

The app, which is used in conjunction with therapy, records a range of emotions for anxiety, depression, head injury, stress, post-traumatic stress and a user's general well-being. The data, which is saved in a graphical or spreadsheet format, is then transferred via e-mail or other wireless connection to a patient's therapist.

To learn more:
- read Kvedar's blog post