In what could transform the way in which patients with mental illnesses are monitored and treated by clinicians, researchers have now developed a new smartphone-based system that detects changes in patients’ behavioural patterns and transmits them to professionals in real time.
“The diagnosis of mental health disease is based only on behavioural patterns,” said Uri Nevo from Tel Aviv University in Israel.
“Because most people own smartphones today, we thought, ‘Why not harness the smartphone, a reservoir of daily activities, to monitor behavioural patterns?’,” Nevo explained.
Researchers conducted two clinical trials of the application. In the trials, 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.
The system has already positively affected their interaction with patients, offering a useful objective “window” into the patient’s daily routine, psychiatrists in the trials reported.
A patient using the app has full control over who has access to the behavioural patterns recorded and analysed by it, Nevo added.
By facilitating patient observation through smartphones, the technology also affords patients much-needed independence from hospitals, clinicians – and even family members, when needed.
Research on the application was presented at the Israel Society for Biological Psychiatry’s annual conference this year.