Schizophrenic Patients Get Help from Smartphone App

By Eliza Strickland

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the IEEE Spectrum online magazine in June 2014.
Click here to read the entire article.

A new Smartphone app promises to help schizophrenic patients spot symptoms of relapse. The concept behind the app, called CrossCheck, involves a group of sensors that create a profile of the patient’s healthy behavioral and social patterns and raises an alert when the patient deviates from the norm.

According to Dror Ben-Zeev, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College and this study’s principal researcher, a relapse is both harmful and unsettling for a schizophrenic patient. Oftentimes, the patient will end up in jail or in the hospital, which interferes with therapies and normal routines. To help counteract these difficulties, the CrossCheck app will help doctors who typically see these patients once a month, better manage relapses by tracking daily movements in real time.

CrossCheck ties together a number of data sets to create patient profiles. It uses GPS to create a map of patients’ typical locations, and accelerometer data to determine when patients are walking, running, or sedentary. The microphone detects conversations that occur either over the phone or in person and records their duration and frequency, but does not record or analyze content. To discern sleep patterns, CrossCheck looks for times when the phone is stationary and not in use, and when light and sound sensors determine that the environment is dark and quiet.

The patient’s only active participation involves completing a brief questionnaire once a week, which asks about mood and symptoms. According to Ben-Zeev, when patients indicate that they are feeling bad or not getting enough sleep, researchers mark that as a near-relapse event. Then, the next time CrossCheck detects that signature in the patient data, it sounds out alerts: The patient is encouraged to get in touch with a doctor, and the study investigators at the hospital are notified that the patient may need help.

John Kane, M.D., chairman of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. where CrossCheck is being tested, is aware that all this monitoring may seem intrusive and possibly alarming to patients who already suffer from paranoid tendencies. “Part of the challenge with any kind of monitoring is making sure the patients understand why we’re doing this,” says Kane. He says the study will include an education component in which investigators will present CrossCheck as a partnership between doctors and patients.

Ben-Zeev has also developed an app called Focus, which gives schizophrenic patients a more active role in managing their illness. The system is currently being tested in a multistate study that will conclude in 2016.

Read the full article here.