Smartphone apps are feasible tools for monitoring mental health

Data indicates the feasibility of utilizing patient-owned smartphones to monitor mental health conditions, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research's mHealth and uHealth

The rapid growth and adoption of smartphones, in particular, offers a promising mechanism for the experience sampling method (ESM) collection, assert the article's authors.

The aim of the study was to provide data on the prevalence of a smartphone ownership among psychiatric patients, their patterns of use, and interest in utilizing mobile apps to monitor their mental health conditions. In the study, 100 psychiatric outpatients at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center completed a paper-and-pencil survey, of which 97 percent reported owning a mobile phone and 72 percent reported owning a smartphone, with 67 percent of patients stating their interest and willingness to try mobile apps designed to monitor their mental health conditions.

Nevertheless, the authors acknowledge that difficulties in the practical implementation of ESM data collection have limited its impact in psychiatry and mental health. Still, they say that smartphones with the capability to run mobile applications "may offer a novel method of collecting ESM data that may represent a practical and feasible tool for mental health and psychiatry."

"Patients may prefer the anonymity of using a mobile application and feel more comfortable reporting symptoms in such a manner," argue the authors. "Previous studies have indicated that a further benefit of mobile applications regarding mental health may be a reduction in stigma resulting in higher rates of compliance and treatment-seeking behavior."

Though mobile mental health apps have the potential to be effective and may significantly improve treatment accessibility, a study published in November in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that the majority of apps that are currently available lack scientific evidence demonstrating their efficacy. 

Nevertheless, "given the small number of studies and participants included in this review, the high risk of bias, and unknown efficacy of long-term follow-up, current findings should be interpreted with caution, pending replication," warned the article. 

To learn more:
- read the article in JMIR

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