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From the Clinic to Your Smartphone: Using Mobile Apps to Improve Care

Example of various mobile apps
DoD photo by Sidney Hinds

For many, mobile devices are an efficient way to help with health care. According to studies, 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone and have access to millions of mobile apps. Many of those apps exist to support mental health.

Dr. Christina Armstrong, program lead for the education and training program at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), discussed advantages of mobile health technology during a recent webinar. The webinar highlighted telehealth capabilities and strategies for making apps a more common tool used in clinical settings.

The benefits of mobile health technology in clinical care include overcoming barriers, increasing patient engagement, and improving patient reports of symptoms, said Armstrong, also a clinical psychologist.

For example, many apps let users keep logs that help them track and report symptoms to their providers. This can make clinical visits more productive. Studies also show that mobile tech can increase patient engagement with treatment outside of their face-to-face interactions with providers.

“They [patients] really need to engage in positive behavior changes in between the sessions as well,” Armstrong said, “and these mobile applications help.”

Available tools

T2 and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) developed mobile applications to help service members manage their mental health:

  • Virtual Hope Box – Provides patients with positive resources for dealing with stress and anxiety. Users can customize their hope box with images, videos and pre-programmed wellness resources. This app can help patients maintain their wellness outside of direct treatment.
  • PTSD Coach – Helps users track posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and learn how those symptoms affect them. The app provides users ideas and methods to help manage their symptoms and can help them find a health care provider when needed.
  • STAIR Coach (Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation) – Provides tools for patients coping with trauma who are having trouble with their relationships. This app has modules to help users adjust their thinking and behaviors, and how to handle difficulties in personal interactions.
  • AIMS (Anger and Irritability Management Skills)Features an interactive course designed to help users cope with anger. This app lets users keep a log of their anger patterns to learn what causes their anger and how to avoid triggers.
  • VetChange – Based on the VetChange web-based intervention, the VetChange mobile app is a self-management tool to help users reduce problem drinking and PTSD symptoms. 

Working apps into treatment

These apps are helpful tools designed to help people take a proactive approach to managing their health care. However, to receive the full benefits of this technology, clinicians need to integrate them into clinical treatment.

VA and T2 created resources to help patients and providers decide which mobile apps support a patient’s treatment plan. The DoD/VA PDF: mobile app guide has a simple table that matches symptoms to apps to help users make informed selections. T2 also produced an PDF: app catalog that describes each of their mobile apps.

Armstrong reminded all mobile health tech users that these tools are a compliment to treatment, not a replacement. To learn more about treatment options for mental health care, visit the DCoE blog.

Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) hosted the event, which is part of the monthly DCoE webinar series.


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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.