App Helps Track Mood, Activity, Sleep in Depressed Patients

Megan Brooks

September 21, 2015

A new smartphone app lets depressed patients log their moods and symptoms and share the information with their psychiatrists, potentially leading to better management.

The MoodTrek app requires users to log their mood on a scale of 1 to 5 by selecting the appropriate smiley face icon that matches their current mood. It also links to the Fitbit activity tracker, which integrates users' sleep and exercise activities, which they can then share with their psychiatrist. For patients seeing a provider using a Cerner-developed electronic medical record, the information is uploaded instantaneously to their medical records.

Depression affects roughly 16 million adults in the United States alone. Yet many patients see a psychiatrist only once every 2 to 3 months. Between visits, patients may not remember how their mood has varied, a fact that led to development of the MoodTrek app.

"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," Ganesh Gopalakrishna, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, in Columbia, and a psychiatrist at University of Missouri Health Care, said in a statement.

Dr Ganesh Gopalakrishna

Dr Gopalakrishna worked with Sriram Chellappan, PhD, in the Department of Computer Science at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T), in Rolla, to create the app. He received help from Missouri S&T's technology transfer and economic development staff and the Tiger Institute for Health Innovation, in Columbia.

Kody Ihnat, a mathematics and physics student at the University of Missouri, who struggles with depression, has seen an improvement in her mental well-being since using the app. "I update my mood at least once a day," Ihnat said in a statement. "It forces you to take time for self-analysis and really reflect to find out why you're feeling the way you do. My family is very much comforted by the fact that I have something in my pocket that is looking out for me and allows me to be in touch with my doctor," Ihnat said.

"The app brings the patient and doctor together in a meaningful and efficient way," Dr Gopalakrishna noted in an interview with Medscape Medical News. "Healthcare needs to be more about preventive health than correctional health."

MoodTrek is available free of charge for Android devices; the developers plan to bring the app to Apple devices in the future.

Hybrid Approach

"So far, we've had more than 100 downloads and about 14 reviewers, with about a 4.7 rating, which is good," Dr Gopalakrishna said. The app includes a helpline that can connect the user with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

"There are at least a dozen mood tracking apps on the market. What makes MoodTrek somewhat unique is that it combines both active input (mood logging) and passive input (Fitbit activity records)," Adam C. Powell, PhD, president of Payer+Provider Syndicate, a Boston-based consulting firm specializing in operational challenges faced by health insurance companies and hospitals, noted in email to Medscape Medical News.

"This hybrid approach is useful, as it can be difficult to have people regularly contribute to logs for a long period of time. Unfortunately, there is very limited research on whether mood tracking applications work," Dr Powell noted.

"Hopefully, the creators of MoodTrek will develop clinical evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of their app. Demonstrating efficacy is important, as apps have the potential in some cases to harm their users," he said.

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