[This is a preview of some of the exciting mHealth research being presented at the upcoming Medicine 2.0 Congress in September. This abstract and others are candidates for the iMedicalApps-Medicine 2.0 mHealth Research Award]

by: David C. Mohr, Ph.D.

(Published article in Journal of Medical Internet Research)

In the last several years there has been a rapid increase in the development of mHealth applications to manage a wide variety of health-related behaviors, including diet, exercise, and adherence to medications.

Surprisingly little attention, though, has been paid to depression in this area.

Furthermore, most of these applications require a fair amount of patient engagement. Patients are often asked to log data frequently and/or answer questions, providing the data that allow the applications to be useful. This level activity may be too much for many people.

After all, many people have difficulty adhering to even simple health related tasks, like taking a pill.

I will describe in this article an mHealth intervention, “Mobilyze,” which has two goals. One is to support patients with depression in making changes in behavior that will reduce or eliminate depressive symptoms. The other is to develop a system that learns to identify patients’ states at any given moment, allowing Mobilyze to reach out and intervene in real-time.

Essentially, we are trying to put a therapist in the patient’s pocket.

Registration for the Medicine 2.0 Congress in Boston September 15-16, 2012 is closing soon. iMedicalApps members are entitled to discounted registration. 

We are focusing on depression because it is common, and because non-pharmacological treatments are often hard to access. In any given year, nearly 10% of Americans experience a mood disorder. Depression decreases quality of life, impacts a person’s ability to perform at work and manage relationships, increases risk of many medical problems, results in higher medical costs, and increases the risk of suicide.

Around 2/3rds of depressed primary care patients would prefer a psychological treatment over antidepressant medication, but 75% of those patients also report substantial barriers to accessing that treatment. In addition, with 10% of the population experiencing a mood disorder every year, 30,000,000 Americans would require treatment.

Standard one-on-one therapy will never be able to meet the needs of our population. mHealth interventions, if effective, could have considerable potential to overcome barriers and to provide a true public health approach to treating depression.

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Mobilyze is an mHealth application designed to teach people to manage depressive symptoms using traditional methods, such as providing information and tools to implement evidence-based techniques to improve mood. When people are depressed, they fall into a vicious cycle in which they withdraw socially, and no longer engage in pleasurable or rewarding activities.