New Smart Phone Application Designed to Help Users Monitor Emotional Health

by U.S. Medicine

December 14, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC—Servicemembers, veterans, and their families will need to look no further than their smart phone for help in monitoring their emotional health.

A new smart phone mobile application developed by DoD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) is designed to make it easier for servicemembers, veterans, and their families to monitor their emotional health as they deal with the psychological aftermath of a deployment. A user of the T2 Mood Tracker can then share that information with their therapist or physician who would find the information invaluable in monitoring a patient’s behavior throughout treatment.

The application is available for smart phones using the Android® operating system and it will be available for iPhone® users early next year. “It has been developed to help individuals rank and rate how they are feeling on a variety of behavioral health areas that are associated with deployment and post-deployment,” said Perry Bosmajian, PhD, a T2 clinical psychologist.

Smart Phone Application Monitoring

Self-monitoring provides important information that can be helpful to a physician or therapist in determining whether the patient has made progress between visits. Our memory is not always reliable when it comes to recalling emotional experiences to a provider, explained Bosmajian. “When you go to a doctor or therapist the first thing they do is ask you, ‘how have things been the last two weeks?’, ‘How has it been going since you started this medication?’ Typically, we all have to rely on our memory. When you are dealing with things like moods, memory is not very accurate.”

Self-monitoring with paper and pencil has been used in clinical settings for decades, but the problem with this method is that the paper often gets lost or the patient may forget to record data, added Robert Ciulla, PhD, clinical psychologist, division chief of Population and Prevention Programs at T2.

The T2 researchers aimed to simplify the process of self-monitoring by creating an easy way for patients to collect information on their mood in real time using their smart phone.

Phone Application Helps Providers and Patients

Users can self-monitor emotional experiences associated with common deployment-related behavioral health issues like post-traumatic stress, brain injury, life stress, depression, and anxiety through the phone application. “Those were the primary areas that we identified as important for individuals to be able to track and share with their healthcare provider. Custom categories can be developed, so if you and your doctor decide you want to track something specific that was not one of our preloaded categories then you could go ahead and create your own scale,” said Bosmajian.

Users can track and record emotional experiences with the T2 Mood Tracker from a few days to several months to see results over time. They can also put an alarm on their phone that reminds them to rate their mood at a certain time every day.

Bosmajian noted that the tool is designed to be quick and easy to use. “We are using what is called a visual analog scale, which means in order to rate yourself in these various areas all you have to do is move a little slider on the touch screen between two anchors that are descriptive of how you are feeling.”

When the user is finished rating themselves, a graph can be produced showing their ratings over a period of time. Ciulla emphasized the phone application is not a diagnostic tool. “No one comes away with a score for depression. We don’t rate depression as being moderate or acute. It is entirely designed for individuals to monitor their moods.”

Users can also attach notes documenting environmental influences or emotional experiences. According to T2, this information might include when a medication or therapy is started, changed, or discontinued; the presence of environmental or interpersonal stressors; the dates of injuries; starting a job; ending a marriage; etc. “People can write notes or indicate what was going on with them at any given time, whether they had changed a medication, were injured, or had a significant interpersonal issue. They are able to relate those and share those with their healthcare provider. Together they can evaluate what may be going on in that individual’s life to impact the mood that they are evaluating,” said Bosmajian.

Ciulla said that T2 believes that there are many opportunities to address mental health through mobile phone applications and that the program currently has dozens of mobile applications in development or on the drawing board. “Some will be dedicated to providers so they will be able to access, for example, clinical practice guidelines or treatment plans for PTSD.”

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