Our smart phones leave a digital foot print. This foot print can be used to assess the mental health of the user of the smart phone. We call the foot prints a form of digital phenotyping. Let’s define phenotype in order to be clear.
The sum of an person’s observable characteristics is their phenotype. A key difference between phenotype and genotype is that, whilst genotype is inherited from one’s parents, the phenotype is not. Whilst a phenotype is influenced the genotype, genotype does not equal phenotype
Any digital phenotyping systems used to track a person’s mental health status will be inaccurate. There is no such thing as a 100 per cent accurate medical test, and it’s important to consider the potential misuse of any mental health data.
But to dismiss digital phenotyping because of these limitations is to miss its potential utility. At the very least, a person’s smartphone information could help to inform their clinician’s decision-making and the mental health care that they provide.
Even if a test can’t be used to home in on an exact diagnosis, it could narrow down the range of possibilities and ultimately help inform human judgment and treatment-path selection in a field that needs better diagnostic tools.
Traditional mental health care relies on a person self-reporting their symptoms, which can be unreliable. Furthermore, once a therapy session is over, there’s no established way to monitor a patient’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour in their real life.
Thus, being able to assess mental health objectively and continuously by analysing a person’s daily digital footprint offers a transformative alternative to traditional methods. Digital phenotyping will be an important tool for use in mental health care.
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