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New App Helps Physicians Track Mental Illness

MoodTrek app lets patients track their health and send data to their doctors.
The MoodTrek app lets patients track their health and send data to their doctors.

Mobile apps and wearable devices, like Fitbits and Jawbones, help us keep track of everything from our heart rates, physical exercise to sleep and nutrition. But, despite the bounty of health data, doctors don’t have a good way to monitor what their patients input.  

A few years ago, University of Missouri psychiatrist Dr. Ganesh Gopalakrishna, M.D. decided to change that when he realized some of his patients were logging mental and physical symptoms, but he couldn’t access their information.

"There's a lot of data out there about activity levels, and sleep from these fitness tracking devices, and it's very useful for health care providers,” Gopalakrishna says, “but we hardly ever see that data at all because it's not accessible in the workflow of physicians.”

This story was originally produced by KBIA.

About two years ago, he began developing, MoodTrek, a mobile app that allows users coping with a mental illness to track fitness and mood; that data is sent directly to the physician when a user’s phone is connected to the internet. 

Gopalakrishna teamed up with researchers from Missouri University of Science and Technologyand theTiger Institute for Health Innovation to develop the app. They partnered with Cerner Corporation, the Kansas City-based health information system used by the University of Missouri. The app data is transferred directly into the system accessible to physicians. 

It forces you to evaluate how you're feeling on a day, and to think, okay why am I doing okay, what's going well?

Kody Inhat, a Missouri University senior, started using MoodTrek in January to help manage her depression. She uses the app to monitor her mood by manually picking one of several smiley faces that indicate emotions like happy, sad and neutral. Then, she can journal to give more insight into that emotion.

"Oh, I just did great on a test, I'll log that as a high note,” Inhat explains. “Or, crap, my dog just died, you know, log that.”

She also syncs her Fitbit to the app, so her steps, sleep and other health patterns help create a broader picture of her overall physical and mental health.

“When patients see that when they’re sleeping well or having good amount of activities, their mood gets better, they're likely to improve their lifestyle and help themselves,” Gopalakrishna says.

The information is useful for doctors as well, who can use it to help give their patients better treatment. 

Dr. Gbolohan Oyinloye, a psychiatry fellow at the University of Missouri who also uses the app in-clinic, says that having access to this kind of information helps him prescribe medications more objectively.

"We tend to fall into that trap sometimes by increasing the dose of medications because someone has had a bad week,” Oyinloye says. “Or the opposite could be true, sometimes we could be trigger happy and reduce the dose of medications because someone had a good week.”

The app still only has limited users, with just a few hundred downloads for Android phones. At this time, only doctors using Cerner systems can connect to the MoodTrek’s information. 

But while the team works on expanding the technology to more doctors and patients, it's already helping current users like Kody Inhat. She says that just inputting her mood every day helps her cope with her depression.

"It forces you to evaluate how you're feeling on a day. And forces you to think, okay why am I doing okay, what's going well, what's doing bad," she says.