Steven Roy Daviss MD, DFAPA

Shrink Rap Today

WhatsMyM3? App for Mental Health Screening and Symptom Tracking

There's an app for that? An iPhone/iPad/Android screening tool for mood/anxiety.

Posted Jun 04, 2012

USA Today ran a story last week entitled, "Screening for mental illness? Yes, there's an app for that," by Michelle Healy. 

WhatsMyM3 is a validated, three-minute tool that screens for symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety, and can be used to monitor changes in symptom severity over time. The original research was published in the Annals of Family Medicine. The tool is also available for iPhone and Android smartphones.

One of the developers, Michael Byer, approached me about a year ago for my opinions on development and use of the screening tool. Disclosure: After reviewing the research and seeing how useful it is, I have become more involved in the organization, becoming an adviser to the group that was started nearly ten years ago by past NIMH chief, Robert Post MD.

It differs from other mental health screening tools, such as the PHQ-9 and the MDQ, in that these are all unidimensional — they only measure one domain of symptoms, like depression or bipolar disorder. The M3 is multidimensional, measuring four areas of symptoms in one quick tool.

Furthermore, when compared to results from the standardized interview tool, the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (the MINI measures for 15 different mental illness diagnoses), WhatsMyM3 provides a total mental health score that is 83 percent sensitive in finding true positives and 76 percent specific in finding true negatives. In addition to the total score, there are four subscores, one each for depression, bipolar, PTSD, and anxiety. 

Put another way, the negative predictive value of the total score is 89 percent, meaning that if you score under the threshold, there is an 89 percent chance that you do not have any mental health diagnosis by the MINI. As with most screening tests, you want the negative predictive value to be high so that you don't have to subject the "negatives" to more specific testing. The positive predictive value, or PPV, is generally lower for screening tests. It is 65 percent for WhatsMyM3, meaning that if you score positive (total score >= 33 and positive for functional impairment), the odds of you having a diagnosis is almost two-thirds. A clinical evaluation can then help to determine if you do have a diagnosis. (Note: this tool cannot give you a diagnosis; it can only describe your relative risk of having, or not, a diagnosis.)

What some people who are already in treatment have found to be very helpful is using WhatsMyM3 to monitor their symptoms over time. This can be done for free on the website, or using the inexpensive iPad or iPhone apps or Android app.

For mental health clinicians, they can either download the free M3Clinician iPad app or use the website, and then screen their own patients. For about a dollar per screen, they can register their patients who want to track their symptoms over time and share their scores with the clinician. Primary care providers can also use the screening tool, and can even obtain insurance reimbursement by billing for an annual health risk assessment. The patient reports can be viewed by logging into m3clinician.com.

A sample report for a fake patient can be viewed here.

I think this sort of tool, or app, is exactly the sort of mHealth thing that empowers consumers to better manage and become engaged in their health care needs. While this is happening now in other areas, like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, mental health is also making great strides in mHealth.