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Mobile apps help vets cope with stress, mental health issues

January 19, 2015 (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

Mobile apps are opening up new ways for physicians to deliver health care services, including mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology is at the forefront of efforts to develop innovative technology to help military service members, veterans and their families cope with psychological health and traumatic brain injury issues. The center, known as T2, also delivers tested solutions — many of them mobile apps — to help improve the lives of patients wherever they are located.

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"If we want to make a difference in health care we need to really reach the people where they are," said David Cooper, a clinical psychologist and lead for mobile applications with T2, a component center of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Seeing a patient one or two hours a week is not always a sufficient amount of time to affect change with someone struggling with mental health issues, Cooper said. Mobile apps give for people and clinicians another option to interact and engage in activities to improve their condition.

For instance, T2 collaborated with the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP), and the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to develop the PE Coach mobile app. Prolonged Exposure (PE) is a treatment used for PTSD patients that asks them to relive the events of a traumatic event in their imaginations. With PE Coach installed on their smartphones, patients can record therapy sessions.

PE Coach is a mobile app designed to support the tasks associated with prolonged exposure treatment for PTSD.
Photo Credit: National Center for Telehealth and Technology

PE Coach stores a list of distressing situations patients will confront during therapy. They can add new situations as they are identified. Between sessions, the service member or veteran can access this list and record exposure homework directly in the app. The provider can later review completed homework at the next session based upon how the app was used by the patient, according to T2 officials. Additionally, PTSD symptoms can be tracked in the app over time with a graphic display to help the service member or veteran celebrate their successes in treatment.

Cooper has a team of experts to help craft applications. "I have subject matter experts, [software] coders, developers, and graphic designers to [help] evaluate our products before they are even delivered," he said. Plus, the team has access to the actual people who will be using the apps to get their feedback before offering the apps.

The emergence of consumer-oriented mobile technology and wearable remote monitoring devices will have a huge impact on the future health care delivery process, according to Dan Garrett, leader of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) health care IT Practice. According to a new PwC report, Health Care Delivery of the Future, over the past four years, physicians have started performing more health care activities on mobile devices.

"Of the 40 percent of clinicians who monitor patient data generated by a mobile health app, medical device, or wearable technology, 83 percent find that doing so is at least somewhat helpful when making treatment decisions," according to the report.

The survey results also "indicate that e-visits and digital visits will replace more than 10 percent of the in-office [physician] visits in the near-term future," Garrett said. Consumers are driving this push, enabling technologies are making it possible, and the need to lower costs and improve quality is making this new health care delivery process happen, he added.

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