Ginger.io, a startup spun out of the MIT Media Lab, aims to use data collected automatically from mobile phones to warn users and their physicians that they may be on the verge of a manic episode or a bout of debilitating illness.
The company has developed a mobile-phone app called DailyData that analyzes information on the user’s location and the frequency of calls and text messages to determine whether that person is having health problems. Ginger.io will market the software to health insurers and others who could use the aggregate data to better understand the links between health and behavior.
“Changes in medication or mood are tied to communication and movement patterns,” says Karan Singh, one of the company’s founders. “Call diversity is a great example. When people fall into a cycle of depression, they tend to go into isolation and only call a couple of people.”
The start-up is part of a growing effort to use the sophistication of smart phones and other wireless devices to track behavior as it pertains to health. But Ginger.io’s app is unique in that it collects data automatically. Most health-tracking programs rely on information manually entered by the user, but many people eventually lose interest in using the program. Mood-tracking apps, for example, typically ask users to rate their moods, a task a depressed person is liable to neglect.
The DailyData app first creates a baseline model of a user’s mobile-phone activity and then searches for deviations from that pattern. For patients with bipolar disorder, a burst of text messaging or phone calls could signal a manic episode. “We can compare this to your past behavior, or to aggregate behavior of individuals of your approximate age and demographic,” says Anmol Madan, another of the company’s cofounders.
Users can supplement the automatically collected data with manually entered information on medication, symptoms, and social activity, and can look at visualizations of their data on their phone or on a website. When the app detects behavioral changes, it will send out alerts, such as “You’ve been working harder on the weekends” or “You seem really stressed, is everything OK?”