New Israeli App Helps to Treat and Diagnose Mental Illness
Researchers from Tel Aviv University are using readily-available technology to help physicians better treat and diagnose mental illness.
Dr. Uri Nevo, research team engineer Keren Sela, and scientists from TAU’s Faculty of Engineering and Sagol School of Neuroscience have designed a smartphone app to help monitor patients with mental illness and help doctors fine-tune their care.
“The diagnosis of mental health disease is based only on behavioral patterns,” Nevo said of his team’s innovation. “In some cases, a patient is discharged from the hospital into a vacuum, with no idea how to monitor his or her new state of mind. Because most people own smartphones today, we thought, ‘Why not harness the smartphone, a reservoir of daily activities, to monitor behavioral patterns?’”
By analyzing texts, calls and other cell phone habits, Nevo and his team’s app converts that raw data into information about the patient’s behavioral patterns that can then be used by doctors to determine the best care.
While it may seem intrusive to monitor cell activity, the app actually affords patients with more privacy and freedom than traditional care because it allows them more control of their lives and freedom from human ‘monitors’ in either a hospital or home setting.
Nevo also stressed the patient always maintains complete control over the data collected and who and when it is shared.
“We take great care to protect the patient’s privacy,” Nevo stressed, making it clear patients need not worry about the data ending up in the wrong hands. “The content of calls and texts is completely ignored and never acquired or recorded, and any identifying parameters of the patient or of his contacts, are irreversibly masked and are obviously not used.”
While the app has been recognized by the Entrepreneurship and Innovation 8200 Accelerator Program and has received funding from the Israel Ministry of Economy, Nevo said it will be a while before the smartphone monitoring program is widely available.
“We have a way to go until such a system will be proven effective and adopted by the psychiatric community,” Nevo explained, adding that he was hopeful the app will be a success because “psychiatrists, as well as US federal policymakers in the field, agree that such tools are necessary to improve psychiatric practice.”