OBJECTIVE: The study sought to explore to what extent geolocation data has been used to study serious mental illness (SMI). SMIs such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are characterized by fluctuating symptoms and sudden relapse. Currently, monitoring of people with an SMI is largely done through face-to-face visits. Smartphone-based geolocation sensors create opportunities for continuous monitoring and early intervention.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: We searched MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Scopus by combining terms related to geolocation and smartphones with SMI concepts. Study selection and data extraction were done in duplicate.
RESULTS: Eighteen publications describing 16 studies were included in our review. Eleven studies focused on bipolar disorder. Common geolocation-derived digital biomarkers were number of locations visited (n = 8), distance traveled (n = 8), time spent at prespecified locations (n = 7), and number of changes in GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) cell (n = 4). Twelve of 14 publications evaluating clinical aspects found an association between geolocation-derived digital biomarker and SMI concepts, especially mood. Geolocation-derived digital biomarkers were more strongly associated with SMI concepts than other information (eg, accelerometer data, smartphone activity, self-reported symptoms). However, small sample sizes and short follow-up warrant cautious interpretation of these findings: of all included studies, 7 had a sample of fewer than 10 patients and 11 had a duration shorter than 12 weeks.
CONCLUSIONS: The growing body of evidence for the association between SMI concepts and geolocation-derived digital biomarkers shows potential for this instrument to be used for continuous monitoring of patients in their everyday lives, but there is a need for larger studies with longer follow-up times.