It is projected that by next year, over 7.6 billion people throughout the world will use over 30 billion smart, sensor-based wearable devices that will monitor human activities. As a result, there will be an enormous amount of health-related data collected, including mental-health data.
Smartphones and wearable sensors are able to detect and analyze behaviors such as activity (by GPS, location, and speed); sleep hours (your total time in bed or asleep); and various brain functions through games prompted to test memory, executive capacities, emotions and moods. This will soon become the paramount source of obtaining health data with a special emphasis on mental health issues.
According to the last Global Burden of Diseases Report released by the World Health Organization, between 16.5 percent to 27 percent of the total world population — in excess of 70 million Americans — will have some form of mental-health issue by 2020.
Psychiatrists will be able to use these new technologies to identify a healthy person at risk by being able to analyze samplings of feelings, thoughts, and general behaviors as they occur in real time and in their real life.
Thanks to the continuously evolving technologies that are able to collect and store an infinite amount of data in an inexpensive way, these self-reports can be generated at any given time when an event takes place. If needed, the sampling can also be accessed by an authorized observer, which gives additional strengths and “control” to an otherwise subjective observation.
As easy as this may sound, there are a series of hurdles that must be addressed before such a revolution goes global. Issues still exist around the privacy and the legal requirements to collect and protect these data. As well, there are reliability issues, problem of missing data, retention/adherence abilities, and subjects neglecting to wear or charge their devices after a certain period of time.
The new learning algorithms of artificial intelligence technologies are able to integrate structured and unstructured data and should eventually be able to tackle these potential pitfalls. When and if they are solved, we will be able to link mobile health data to information and innovative knowledge. This inter-exchange from data to knowledge is expected to foster new discoveries but, more than anything, it will change the patient-physician relationship forever.