Exploring a Culture of Health: Detecting Signals of Wellbeing

Imagine if everyday technology could transform how we manage our health and wellbeing? What if your phone could alert your doctor to a change in your behaviour? Or what if grandma’s stove could tell you she is already up and about in the morning? It sounds complicated but as it turns out, it might simply be a matter of tapping into the data generated from everyday devices. Two independent groups in California are doing just this.

At UC Davis behavioural scientists with the Early Diagnosis and Preventive Treatment (EDAPT) Clinic are embarking on a yearlong project to study whether mobile technology can improve treatment for young people who are in the early stages of psychotic illness. The EDAPT group has teamed up with Ginger.io a health data start-up to assess “users’ social, physical and mental health status”. Through an app, users can actively input their daily symptoms, medication adherence, mood, and how they are coping, 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. All of this data provides a patient and his or her clinical team with a finer resolution of that patient’s health profile.

“With this detailed level of data, our health care providers get a more complete picture of how their patients are doing – across multiple domains – in a way that may not be possible in a brief session,” explains Dr. Tara Niendam, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at UC Davis and Director of Operations for the EDAPT Clinic.

Having a record of this information enables the patient and the clinician to build links between experiences and symptoms. “Instead of relying on the patients’ memory, the clinician is able to look at the data and say, ‘Hey, I noticed that you had an upsetting conflict Tuesday and your mood was very low Wednesday. What happened?’ It empowers the patients who can learn to recognize his or her potential triggers,” says Dr. Niendam. The technology also gives clinicians information about their patients on a more immediate basis. “We quickly identify patients who have stopped their meds and can reach out to them about why, allowing us to identify issues with side effects or patient concerns more quickly,” explains Dr. Niendam.

And it works for patients too—by using mobile phone technology, adolescents are able to monitor their health and partner with their provider in a way that fits their lifestyle.

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