Mobile mood-tracking website helps patients across Canada

Effective help for depression and anxiety is now just a click away, thanks to a mobile-optimized website developed at the Mood Disorders Clinic at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. MoodFx, accessible by mobile device or computer, uses validated questionnaires to track patients’ mood, cognition and work performance.

While other mood-tracking websites and apps do exist, MoodFx, the brainchild of UBC Mood Disorders Centre director Dr. Raymond Lam, is unique. Not only was it developed by mental-health researchers and clinicians, but its checklists and questionnaires are backed by scientific research.

“A lot of mood tracking apps are based on a zero-to-ten scale,” explained Lam, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry. “We use questionnaires that have been validated in many studies to track both symptoms and functioning, with a focus on work functioning. MoodFx is the only one consolidating that type of tracking.”

In addition to tracking moods, users can set reminders to check their symptoms regularly and before health-care appointments, gain helpful tips for managing symptoms, and generate symptom charts to be printed or displayed on a mobile device. Information is stored anonymously and securely.

MoodFx was backed by a $150,000 donation from Lundbeck Canada and developed over the course of a year with help from UBC Faculty of Medicine’s eHealth Strategy Office. It was launched at the annual meeting of the Canadian Psychiatric Association in September 2014. Nine months later, it’s registered more than 500 users from across the country.

In a recent user survey, close to 70 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that MoodFx has been useful for them. Users called the program “a huge encouragement,” noting, “MoodFx has really helped me to see progress, and when there is a rough time, to be able to see visually that I can and will come back around.” Others called it “reassuring” and praised its ease of use.

Putting care in patients’ hands

The project came out of a desire to encourage measurement-based care among clinicians. Lam and his colleagues have been encouraging the use of ratings scales among physicians, but found uptake was slow.

“We know that when people use symptom rating scales, outcomes are better,” explained Lam, also an investigator at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health where the Mood Disorders Centre is located. “But it’s very hard to get physicians to track outcomes using ratings scales, because they’re not used to it.”

Frustrated by a lack of progress, Lam had a Eureka moment: “Let’s put it in the hands of the patients. Have them keep track of their symptoms and show their clinicians how they’re doing over time.”

Eric Davies, a Winnipeg computer scientist, is one of them. He believes MoodFx has already had a significant impact on his life and treatment for depression. “Last year, I was in a fairly deep slump, and I didn’t realize that it was particularly bad until I started doing these MoodFx questionnaires,” said Davies. “That data prompted my doctor and I to make a change in my medication, and I’ve been great since then.”

Davies checks his symptoms on a weekly basis, and thinks MoodFx has helped him gain a clearer perspective on his moods. “It helps me realize how I’m doing, and whether my particular feelings at that moment are causing major problems in my life or whether I’m actually doing fairly well.”

Improved clinical treatment

Lam said experiences like Davies’ are exactly what the app is designed to do. “It makes patients much more active in terms of their own treatment, and aware of what’s working and what’s not working. This way patients can actually show their clinicians if things aren’t getting better.”

Lam said patients often end up in a static situation. “A lot of times we see people who are on the same treatment for a long time, and they’re still not doing well, but nobody changes anything,” he observed. “This way people know if they’re getting better or not.”

He added: “It’s hard to image treating hypertension without blood-pressure measurements, or treating diabetes without blood-sugar measurements. We don’t have lab tests for depression, but rating scales for symptoms are as close as we can get.”

Thanks to MoodFx, these important tools are making their way into the doctor’s office, and empowering patients at the same time.

MoodFx can be accessed at www.moodfx.ca.