A doctor and patient review data on a tablet computing device.

Touch-screen Mental Health Survey Leads to Improved Treatment for Patients

Standardized queries can reveal trends and shape treatment for mental health patients.

By Andrew Faught • Illustration by Dragonimages/iStock

Patients with mental health disorders are getting more personalized treatment, thanks to a new way of tracking the course of an illness. Peter Zandi, a professor in Mental Health, is outfitting the waiting room at the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center with computer tablets to query patients on their mental health at that moment in time. 

“We’re asking patients 30 questions [about] how they’re doing with regard to their depression or bipolar disorder,” says Zandi, PhD ’01, MHS ’00, MPH ’97. “Now, that sounds basic, but prior to this we never really captured that information in a standardized way. Psychiatrists often just provided treatments based on their impression of how a patient is doing.”

The electronic data, taken over time, will allow doctors to see trends in a patient’s illness and can help inform a physician’s decision making, Zandi says. 

The effort is part of a movement to develop what’s being called a learning health system. Johns Hopkins is one of a consortium of 26 academic medical centers across the country working to capture standardized information about mental health disorders (in accordance with federal privacy regulations). The resulting central database will serve as a foundation for research projects, including those testing the efficacy of different drugs. 

Targeted conditions currently include depression and bipolar disorder. Schizophrenia; post-traumatic stress disorder; and anxiety, eating and conduct disorders will be included as the registry expands.

The tablet program is gradually launching at other mental health clinics across Johns Hopkins, and Zandi is in the process of developing a mobile app that will allow physicians to collect standardized data from patients beyond the doctor’s office.