Moodsurfing has looked at smartphone apps for depression and those for bipolar disorder and a new study is available that looks specifically at a smartphone app for depression in pregnancy.

Mental health in pregnancy is a topic that can raise real anxiety in people’s minds, in part because so much divergent information is readily available on the internet and from family and friends.  However, MoodSurfing has found ample evidence to support healthy pregnancies with consultation and careful planning.  While patients with bipolar disorder do have an increased risk of mood episodes in the period during and immediately after pregnancy, monitoring and contact with mental health care providers shows evidence of positive impact.  I make it a practice to visit all of my patients within two days of childbirth to maintain improved contact during this sensitive period.

The study sought to determine whether these apps can improve service delivery to vulnerable populations, and whether patient engagement was improved.  Over an eight-week period, researchers assessed patient engagement and satisfaction, and extracted data from patient records to assess encounters with care providers and referrals to mental health care providers.  The users of mood-tracking mobile apps had higher levels of satisfaction, feeling of control over their situation, and significantly more contacts with providers and referrals to mental health care providers.

Note that this study used an app that requires users to input their own data about their mood symptoms, and the app itself sent automatic alerts to providers when the mood symptoms worsened.  This is different from many apps that allow patients to control whether and when reports are sent.  The automatic alert feature appears to be helpful particularly in the context of high-risk situations, when many patients may not be able to think as clearly as they normally do, given lack of sleep, and other health concerns.  However, not all available apps currently on the market include this feature, so it is important to be sure how an app works before purchase.

“Seventy-two women enrolled (PP, N=24; MTA, N=48). MTA users had significantly more contacts addressing mental health, and as gestational age increased, they rated ability to manage their own health significantly better than women in the control group. Women who received telephone contact from a provider triggered by an MTA app alert were significantly more likely to receive a mental health specialist referral.”

Apps that teach patients to monitor their own moods are more common, but this study looked specifically at an app that sends alerts to providers, and found it to be ”a feasible option to improve mental health service delivery via monitoring at-risk patients between visits,” according to Liisa Hantsoo, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Perleman School of Medicine.

-Nancy

References

A Mobile Application for Monitoring and Management of Depressed Mood in a Vulnerable Pregnant Population. Liisa HantsooStephanie CrinitiAnnum KhanMarian MoseleyNaomi KinclerLaura J. FahertyC. Neill Epperson, and Ian M. Bennett. Psychiatric Services 0 0:0