VA mHealth Apps with Dr. Jason Owen (Next Generation Behavioral Health Podcast)

VA mHealth Apps with Dr. Jason Owen (Next Generation Behavioral Health Podcast)


[Dr. Christina Armstrong] Hello, and welcome
to “Next Generation Behavioral Health.” [Dr. Julie Kinn] Ten-minute tips for modernizing
patient care. [Armstrong] [music] I’m Dr. Christina Armstrong. [Kinn] And I’m Dr. Julie Kinn. [Armstrong] Today we have a very special guest:
Dr. Jason Owen. He is a clinical psychologist at the VA’s
National Center for PTSD in Palo Alto, California. Thank you for joining us today, Jason. [Dr. Jason Owen] Glad to be here. [Armstrong] Jason, can you tell us about how
the VA is using mobile health applications in mental health care? [Owen] Yeah, I’d love to. So VA’s been using apps as part of clinical
care and as a way of reaching veterans and anyone who’s affected by PTSD since around
2011. It all started with PTSD Coach, which was
meant to be a tool that anyone could turn to in a moment of distress or crisis that
would give you ways to reach out for support and connection, ways to quickly bring down
spiraling negative emotions, to learn the basics of how not just to survive, but to
overcome PTSD, and ways to track progress over time. PTSD Coach has been immensely successful for
reaching those that have never had or maybe never even considered mental health care and
for those that are already connected to care. We’ve learned a lot about how to provide care
through mobile apps, and we now have a portfolio that includes eight self-management apps,
or apps that can be used on their own without a doctor or other health care provider, and
seven treatment-companion apps, which are meant to support and extend some of the most
widely used evidence-based treatments for PTSD, including prolonged exposure with an
app called PE Coach, and cognitive processing therapy with an app called CPT Coach. Taken together, our apps have now been downloaded
over a million times, and we’re proud that many of our users have no idea they’re using
a VA app. They just know it’s an app that helps them
manage their PTSD. It helps them learn more about how to manage
their symptoms, how to help loved ones with PTSD, or helps them sleep or even practice
mindfulness skills. We’re also doing a lot of outreach to health
care providers, both to let them know about how the apps might be useful to their practice,
but also to learn as much as we can about how to make our apps work even better for
their patients. [Kinn] That’s fantastic. Christie and I both use these apps all the
time with patients and of course in our trainings that we provide across the DOD. They’re great apps. We’ll have all the links in the show notes. But, where do you usually direct users to
go to get all the apps? [Owen] So the best way to learn more is to
check out our website — it’s myvaapps.com — which has information about how to get
the apps on your phone or tablet. It’s got handouts, video tutorials, newsletters,
and more. The best way to get started, though, is to
download an app and try it out. So if you visit either the Google Play Store
or the App Store for Apple devices, just search for PTSD Coach, and you’re able to see that
app as well as all the other apps VA has developed. [Armstrong] Jason, in your opinion, what have
been some of the obstacles that providers have had to overcome to begin using technology
in clinical care? [Owen] Well, I think time, you know? It takes a little bit of time to learn about
an app, to figure out how to download it, to figure out how it works, and I think that’s
the biggest barrier. I think most of the time once somebody actually
gets it on their device and takes a look at it, they’re pretty intuitive and it doesn’t
take that much time to figure out how you might be able to integrate this into your
care. There’s also a lot that’s in each of these
apps. They’re kind of packed with tools and assessments
and information. And so providers sometimes just don’t even
know what all is available in the apps, and I think that’s what’s so great about the provider
trainings that you guys do and that our team has been doing, is that it gives us some time
to really unpack all that and show providers what’s available in the apps and how they
can use them in their practice. And I think once they see that, people light
up a little bit and they’re pretty excited to think about how to try these with their
patients. Another barrier is, we try to get all of the
apps available for both Apple devices and Android devices, but sometimes it takes a
little time to catch up on one platform or another and so, if you happen to be an Android
user, and an app is only available on an iPhone, then that’s tough. But that’s something we’re trying to get worked
out. [Kinn] Yeah, it’s a good point. One of the things, in the training Christie
leads, is we like to have folks actually switch phones with others so that an Android user
just tries out an iOS phone, and vice versa. [Owen] Yeah, I think that’s great. And one of the nice things about our apps
is…I think if you learn one on one type of device, they look and feel very similar
on the other device, and so it’s not that difficult to transition or show a patient
who has an Android device, if you have an iPhone or vice versa, how to use the app. [Kinn] Yeah, I agree. Your apps, especially, are very consistent
across platform. So, Jason, any starting-out advice you would
give somebody if they were just starting to use apps in treatment? [Owen] There are a lot of tools in here, and
so I think if you can find one tool — relaxation is one, or mindfulness — that you maybe
use as part of your practice or as one component of an intervention that you do with your patients,
those are great ways to start, because you can try a tool, you can send it home with
your patient, you can recommend it as homework and then see whether that’s something that
they enjoy doing or not. [Armstrong] That’s great advice. Jason, so tell us what’s next on the horizon
for your team. [Owen] Yeah, so you know there are a lot of
exciting things going on. There are a lot of moving parts. We have a lot of great folks that are working
on all of these products, and we’re really excited about all that. I guess there are a few things I would highlight. One is that we just released a brand-new version
of our Mindfulness Coach app. It’s out for Android now, and we think the
iOS version is going to come out really pretty soon. And as you know, there’s a lot of evidence
coming out about the benefits of mindfulness for reducing stress, for helping with pain,
even reducing symptoms of PTSD. Mindfulness Coach has been one of our most
popular apps, and even though there are lots of great mindfulness products out there, what
sets ours apart is it’s completely free. It doesn’t require you to purchase anything
to unlock any content. It’s completely private. It doesn’t share your information. It means we don’t collect or share any personal
information at all. It’s a beautiful app that I hope people will
check out, and what we want providers to know is that there’s one really cool feature built
into this app. So if you’re a provider and you use specific
relaxation or mindfulness exercises as part of your clinic or your program, for the first
time we have the ability to rapidly and easily load new exercises into the app. So you can give us a call, send us an email,
let us know which exercises you’d like to include in the app, and then we can make those
available for download to anyone who has that app on their device. So we think that’s pretty cool. [Armstrong] That’s amazing. [Owen] Yeah, we’re excited to see how it works. We’ve had a lot of interest from providers
that just have their own way of doing things, and so it’s nice to be able to have an app
accommodate your specific practice. Another thing is that we have a number of
new apps that are currently in production that we’re real excited about. So there’s a new update to the Family Coach
app, which is meant to help family and friends cope with the stress of having a loved one
with PTSD. And so that will be coming out really soon. There’s also a new app specifically designed
for couples that are dealing with the consequences of PTSD, which we call Couples Coach, it will
provide some basic relationship-building and relationship-repair skills. And it’s meant to be used together with your
partner. There’s also MST Coach, which is designed
to support the unique needs of veterans and service members who’ve experienced any type
of military sexual trauma. We’re also working on Insomnia Coach, which
is a self-management version of our popular CBT-i Coach app. So, this app will bring some of the basic
skills and sleep-tracking capabilities from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia,
and make it available to a much broader audience, so that you can hopefully get some of the
benefits of that treatment, even if you’re not working with a sleep specialist. [Kinn] Are you sick of people asking when
you’re going to make the “Coach Coach” app? [Owen] There are, actually [laughter], you
know, so there’s a lot of — as I mentioned, there’s a lot of stuff that’s packed into
the apps, so we have a lot of tools that are distributed across a lot of the apps. So that’s something we definitely have in
mind. We don’t have immediate plans to build “Coach
Coach,” [laughter] but I like that idea… [Kinn] Darn! [laughter]
[Owen] …as silly as it sounds. The last thing I would mention is that we’re
working on making many of our apps capable of sending and receiving data. So, for users who opt into these kinds of
features, we can more easily connect them to their provider, which would allow providers
to help them track their symptoms or to provide remote coaching. So these capabilities are really important
to telehealth providers who work remotely with their patients, but also to researchers
who want to better understand both how users are interacting with apps and whether they’re
benefiting. [Armstrong] Thank you so much, Jason. Thanks for joining us today on “Next Generation
Behavioral Health.” Please let us know what you thought about
today’s episode and if you have any questions for Dr. Jason Owen or the other experts at
the VA. [Kinn] Check our show notes for the links
that Jason mentioned, and the email address to get in touch with him and his team. [music] You can subscribe to our podcast on
iTunes and Google Play, and thanks so much to those of you who’ve given us a rating. [Armstrong] “Next Generation Behavioral
Health” is produced by the Defense Health Agency. [music]

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