Toward clinical digital phenotyping: a timely opportunity to consider purpose, quality, and safety

The use of data generated passively by personal electronic devices, such as smartphones, to measure human function in health and disease has generated significant research interest. Particularly in psychiatry, objective, continuous quantitation using patients’ own devices may result in clinically useful markers that can be used to refine diagnostic processes, tailor treatment choices, improve condition monitoring for actionable outcomes, such as early signs of relapse, and develop new intervention models. If a principal goal for digital phenotyping is clinical improvement, research needs to attend now to factors that will help or hinder future clinical adoption. We identify four opportunities for research directed toward this goal: exploring intermediate outcomes and underlying disease mechanisms; focusing on purposes that are likely to be used in clinical practice; anticipating quality and safety barriers to adoption; and exploring the potential for digital personalized medicine arising from the integration of digital phenotyping and digital interventions. Clinical relevance also means explicitly addressing consumer needs, preferences, and acceptability as the ultimate users of digital phenotyping interventions. There is a risk that, without such considerations, the potential benefits of digital phenotyping are delayed or not realized because approaches that are feasible for application in healthcare, and the evidence required to support clinical commissioning, are not developed. Practical steps to accelerate this research agenda include the further development of digital phenotyping technology platforms focusing on scalability and equity, establishing shared data repositories and common data standards, and fostering multidisciplinary collaborations between clinical stakeholders (including patients), computer scientists, and researchers.