Researchers unwrap app for improving mood and mental state

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund

How can emojis and Fitbits be used to connect healthcare providers with patients suffering from depression?

An app developed at the University of Missouri just might make that happen.

The university and its associated MU Health Care, working with researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology and the Tiger Institute for Health Innovation, have developed an app that serves as a sort of "mood diary" for those suffering from depression. The app – called MoodTrek - synchs with a Fitbit to gather activity data (including sleep activity), then send that information to the user's healthcare provider.

"Some patients keep a mood diary during their treatment, which can be helpful in assessing their well-being," Ganesh Gopalakrishna, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the MU School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at MU Health Care, said in a press release. "But I thought that there must be a better way to record moods and activity. That led to the development of the MoodTrek app, which allows patients to log their moods, sleep patterns and activity levels between appointments. People tend to forget what their moods were like just a few days ago, but through this app, I can now see that data and can use it to provide the best care possible."

With some 16 million American adults suffering from depression (and many more dealing with a broad array of behavioral health issues), mHealth offers an ideal platform to connect those patients with their providers and other care team members in real time. Mental health clinicians have long said the key to treating people with depression lies in studying what they do and how they feel throughout the day, rather than having them try to recount their feelings during an office visit.

The free app invites users to pick from one of five "smiley face" icons that matches their mood at various times of the day. The app links with a Fitbit to gather activity and sleep data, and can also automatically send that data to a Cerner-based EMR platform. It's currently available for Android devices, and plans are afoot to align the app with Apple devices.

"I update my mood at least once a day," Kody Ihnat, a University of Missouri student who deals with depression and has been using the app since January, said in the press release. "It forces you to take time for self-analysis and really reflect to find out why you're feeling the way you do."

"It's helping you help yourself and helping the doctor help you," Ihnat added. "I've certainly enjoyed using it, and I've definitely seen an improvement in my mood and mental state."

See also: 

ResearchKit becomes a population health tool

New technology looks to tap into emotions

Why mobility matters in behavioral healthcare