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mHealth Wearables Are Put to The Test in Schizophrenia Treatment

Two recent studies have found that people dealing with schizophrenia can use mHealth wearables to track their moods, giving doctors more information on how to spot triggers and improve care management.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Psychiatrists are taking a closer look at remote patient monitoring technology to help patients diagnosed with schizophrenia.

mHealth devices that can measure a patient’s moods in real time “represent a valuable method for gathering real-world patient data at multiple viewpoints,” says Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC, writing in Psychiatry Advisor. They can also help doctors chart how a patient reacts to certain situations and aid in care management and coordination.

Healthcare providers have long been interested in using mHealth tools and platforms to keep track of patients outside the doctor’s office or clinic. In terms of mood measurement, they’ve been taking a look at technology and RPM programs that enable patients to chart their moods, communicate with their care providers, and measure those moods against variables like vital signs, stress levels, sleep, activity, even weather and social factors.

Providers hope to use these tools and platform to help people with behavioral health issues, sleep and eating disorders and addictions. More recently, they’ve been combining self-assessment tools with clinical platforms to address more serious mental health issues.

In describing how this technology could help people dealing with schizophrenia, Rodriguez points to two recent studies that used mobile health devices to track patients in real-world settings.

A 2017 study conducted by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in which 30 people living with schizophrenia were monitored for six days with wearable mHealth devices, found that the devices could be used to reliably track autonomic activity via heart rate variability. Researchers were then able to measure the severity of a schizophrenic episode based on the level of parasympathetic deregulation.

Another study, conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich, the University of Bern and Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland, used mHealth wearables to track 18 patients over four days. That study focused on the connections between interview-based apathy and motor activity.

“These and other studies ‘support that those with psychotic illnesses are comfortable, able, and willing to use personal digital devices to monitor outcomes in their daily life,’” Rodriguez said, quoting John Torous, MD, a staff psychiatrist, clinical informatics fellow and co-director of the digital psychiatry program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Harvard Medical School, whose commentary accompanied the BID study.

Rodriguez also points out that digital health technology is much more cost-effective – for both patients and their care providers – than clinic-based treatments.

“The enormous burden associated with schizophrenia underscores the critical need for research that could lead to improvements in symptoms and quality of life of individuals with the disease,” she writes. “It is well understood that outcomes among these individuals are far more complex than usual research models can capture. It is generally unfeasible to collect continuous or temporally dense data due to issues such as cost and participant burden.”

mHealth devices, she concludes, have the potential to overcome those barriers and help both thoise dealing with schizophrenia and those trying to treat it.


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