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Testing smartphone app to help patients with mental illness

Sacramento-area youth in the early stages of serious mental illness can receive a new smartphone app that helps them detect early warning signs of psychosis, through a one-year, $588,000 grant to the UC Davis Early Diagnosis and Preventive Treatment (EDAPT) Clinic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to study whether harnessing mobile technology improves patient care, says a February 28, 2014 news release, "UC Davis tests new smartphone app to help patients with mental illness." The app, called Ginger.io, enables individuals to actively record their symptoms on a daily and weekly basis, while information on their movements and daily social contacts, such as the number of incoming telephone calls and text messages, is gathered in the background.

Testing smartphone app to help patients with mental illness.
Testing smartphone app to help patients with mental illness.Anne Hart, photography.

“We are trying to identify the early warning signals that someone is struggling, so we can intervene earlier and hopefully prevent relapse,” explains Tara Niendam, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of operations for the EDAPT Clinic, according to the news release. “If an individual is having a bad week, we can reach out to them quickly, rather than waiting for them to call us or come in to the clinic for their next appointment.” There's a smart phone app that lets people record their symptoms on a daily and weekly basis. You also can check out the site, "Reflections on a summer at Ginger.io."

Having a bad week? You don't have to wait to call or come into the clinic for an appointment

The early stages of psychotic illness, which affects an estimated 2 percent of Americans, represent critical periods for intervention. Eighty percent of individuals relapse within the first five years of receiving a diagnosis. Annual health-care costs associated with psychosis are approximately $23 billion. Using Ginger.io, the UC Davis EDAPT clinic aims to improve early identification of symptom exacerbations, giving providers the ability to intervene early in the hope of preventing relapse.

Ginger.io's three-part platform — patient app, behavioral analytics engine and provider dashboard — gives care providers a window into their patients' health between office visits. The patient app and behavioral analytics use smartphone sensors to detect abnormalities in the patient's sleep, communication and movement patterns. Any concerning changes in daily patterns are communicated to the provider via the dashboard, allowing clinicians to deliver timely interventions. Ginger.io has offices in San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The clinic will test the effectiveness of the Ginger.io application over a 12-month period in as many as 120 patients

Clients who do not own Web-enabled phones will receive one through a partnership with T-Mobile. Individuals enrolled within the UC Davis EDAPT and SacEDAPT clinics are eligible to participate, Niendam says, according to the news release. Patients receiving treatment typically see their clinical team on a weekly basis, but that provides only a limited snapshot of patient status, and patients often struggle to report day-to-day fluctuations in their mood and behavior, causing clinicians to miss the early signs of relapse. Using Ginger.io, EDAPT clinicians hope to begin to fill in the gaps.

The app also enables clients to review their data with their clinician each week to see how they are improving or if certain things, such as forgetting a dose of medication, can trigger an increase in symptoms, Niendam explains in the news release. “For example, they can see how the number of arguments they have had with family members affects their mood, to give them concrete things to work on between therapy sessions,” she says, according to the news release.

Niendam noted that younger people are very comfortable interacting with apps on smart phones and other mobile devices. "We hope that this new technology will provide a unique opportunity to enhance their treatment and yield better patient outcomes,” she explains in the news release.

The EDAPT and SacEDAPT Clinics serve youth with illnesses on the psychosis continuum

It offers comprehensive diagnostic and treatment services for children and young adults who recently have developed a psychotic disorder, or who are at high risk of developing such a disorder, with the goal of intervening as early as possible to limit or arrest the course of their disease. Visit the site, Early Diagnosis UC Davis for more information. Or if you're also interested in research, check out the UC Davis Early Psychosis website. It's about preventing mental illness with early detection.

The SacEDAPT Clinic serves Sacramento County residents, ages 12-25, who have Medi-Cal or are uninsured and are in the early stages of psychosis. Click HERE to learn more. The EDAPT Clinic serves individuals from around the Sacramento region, ages 12-40, who have insurance and are in the early stages of psychosis. Click HERE to learn more.

If you are experiencing symptoms but are unsure whether our clinical services are right for you, please take this 21-question screening survey: Click HERE to take the screening survey. UC Davis Early Psychosis Programs have a mission which is to bring hope and wellness to individuals and families who are struggling with psychosis.

To reduce stigma and increase help-seeking, the program educates the community on the nature of mental disorders and the positive impact of early intervention. The program also uses its unique training and expertise in cutting-edge assessment techniques to identify at-risk individuals early in their illness and provide comprehensive evidence-based treatment, focusing on consumer self-determination and family support as the path toward recovery.

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. As the nation’s largest health-focused philanthropy, we work with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. The Foundation brings experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. They are striving to build a national culture of health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come.

Are you an individual living with a chronic condition looking for a stronger connection to your provider, and better care? Or are you a care provider looking to better understand and manage at-risk patient populations through behavioral analytics? Check out the ginger io app site to learn more. Or check out the blog.