Articles
July 9, 2019

Understanding passive behavioral data

You don't need to be a data scientist to leverage the power of passive behavioral data in your clinical practice. We've made it easy! Read on to learn more.

Dr. Russell DuBois, PhD

I am a psychologist specializing in the areas of eating disorders, mindfulness, and data science for personalized medicine. I write for Psychology Today under the column The Digital Doctor.

One feature in the Blueprint platform that always takes clinicians by surprise is the ability to collect what’s called “passive behavioral data” from our patients. Sounds fancy, right? Well…it is! And trust me, you don’t need to be a data scientist to figure out how to leverage the power of this unique type of information in your own clinical practice. We here at blueprint have made it easy - and here’s the basics:


What is passive behavioral data?

Passive behavioral data is information about your patients’ behavior that is collected through sensors - typically in cell phones and other “smart” devices. In contrast to “active data collection” in which patients have to actually do something (fill out a survey, enter information, etc.), passive data by definition requires no action on the part of the patients and is collected continuously throughout the day. Although new to clinical practice, anyone who has used a Fitbit, GPS, or health tracker app has been tracking their own behavior passively.


What types of passive behavioral data can Blueprint track?

Blueprint currently offers four types of passive behavioral data that you can integrate into your clinical practice. First, Blueprint uses GPS location tracking to measure the average number of hours that your patients spend at home each day. This is called Homestay on the dashboard. Second, Blueprint uses GPS location tracking to measure the average amount of time your patients spend moving each day (running, walking, etc.). This is called Movement Time on the dashboard. Third, Blueprint uses sensors in your patients’ cell phones to track the total number of steps they take each day. This is called Daily Steps on the dashboard. Lastly, Blueprint uses information from the Bedtime function on the iPhone to estimate the amount of time spent in bed each night (patients must use the Bedtime function to enable this data). This is called Sleep Duration on the dashboard.


What does passive behavioral data have to do with mental health?

Many mental health disorders have a strong behavioral component. Take major depressive disorder (MDD) as an example, where withdrawal, avoidance, and behavioral inhibition represent core components of the disorder. Simply going outside and keeping physically active can be a struggle for individuals suffering from MDD. Moreover, many evidence-based treatments for MDD advocate for working toward goals aimed at undermining these behavioral patters - getting these individuals out of the house and active in the world again. In this way, improvements in key metrics such as Homestay and Daily Steps can be used as additional indicators that treatment may be progressing in a positive manner.


How might I use passive behavioral data in my clinical practice?

Although this type of data can be integrated into a number of treatment approaches, we find that using passive behavioral data is best applied in the context of Behavior Activation and related treatments which assign behavioral goals that patients are asked to complete on a daily basis. For example, working with your patients to review their data during session and helping them better understand the relationships between their behavior(s) and overall mental health functioning can be a helpful strategy to get insights into your client’s lived experiences. For some patients, days with a high amount of steps may also be days with overall positive mood and energy. For others, sleep duration may be the behavior that is most related to positive functioning. Regardless of the specific outcome, once the behavior with the highest relationship to positive mental health functioning is identified, you can work with your patients to establish daily or weekly goals around this behavior. Even more, you can monitor progress on a day-by-day basis with no extra effort or burden on the patient.


Is this information safe and secure for my patients to share?

Our platform is 100% HIPAA compliant, and we will never share or sell patient information with outside organizations. However, it is your patients’ choice to share this information with you on the platform. If any patient feels unwilling or unsafe to share this information, it is completely within their right to deny access to any passive behavioral data. Simply prompt them to deny access to all Health and Location information when signing up on the app.