Our phones can now detect health problems from Parkinson’s to depression. Is that a good thing?

Date: Jul 10, 2020
Category: News

Digital phenotyping, which can detect patterns from text messages, movements, and even our speech, could transform health care. But is our personal information at stake?

It’s all too easy in these chaotic times to understand how someone with a stressful job might start feeling isolated at work, wrestle with anxiety, and develop insomnia. That’s how Katie, a young lawyer, found herself increasingly disconnected, spending her weekends in bed.

“She was just trying to get through the day,” says Caroline Ogilvy, a clinical independent social worker who met Katie when she came into her primary care office, an affiliate of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to get help with her depression. (Because of medical personal privacy laws, “Katie” is a pseudonym.) At the time, Ogilvy was recruiting patients for research the hospital was conducting with Companion MX, an app that uses data collected from cellphones to monitor patients’ mental health, and Katie’s symptoms made her eligible to participate.

Patients like Katie who used…

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