Smartphone apps next frontier in treating mental health issues

Smartphone apps that monitor human behavior, speech and voice levels, moods and social interaction are being researched as potential tools for helping those suffering from mental illness, include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Researchers hope someday soon that such tools will also be able to predict and serve as a proactive mechanism for alerting patients and doctors on impending mental illness episodes, according to an article at Wired.

"The question isn't whether or not this technology is going to be used in healthcare and monitoring individuals with psychiatric illnesses," University of Michigan psychiatrist Melvin McInnis tells Wired. "The question is really: How?"

Such app research is happening at academic campuses, within start-ups and at research clinics with advocates believing continuous recording of both physical and social behavior can detect mental well being, and down the road, provide intervention when needed, according to the article.

Similar technology is also being used by nearly a dozen healthcare research facilities that are running studies and pilot programs to improve understanding of how patient behavior affects health outcomes. One study, at the University of the California at San Francisco, is measuring digital intervention with patients suffering from depressive disorder. Another focuses on reducing hospital readmissions for patients with psychiatric conditions by identifying early warning signs of a patient having trouble managing their illness.

In the mental health field, several projects have completed trials, Wired reports, and initial results are positive. But the same challenges that face all emerging mHealth tech presents hurdles for mental health apps as well. As a recent study shows, mobile healthcare apps pose "significant potential for harm," and require the development of a risk assessment model as well as a framework for supporting clinical use of apps.

Yet despite such concerns many in the mental health industry are clearly enthusiastic about mHealth apps' potential.

"I think this will have a liberating effect, and will extend the boundaries of healthcare in a really enormous way," Jeffrey Lieberman, psychiatrist-in-chief at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, said in the article.

For more information:
- read the article at Wired           

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