PHOP's Behavioral Health Professionals Explore Technology-Based Resources

Dr. Stewart presents at PHOP seminar

Some morning lectures can be sleep-inducing, requiring frequent trips to the coffee-and-muffin table at the back of the conference room to stay awake. However, this wasn’t the case at the annual training event for the U.S. Navy and Marine Forces Reserve Psychological Health Outreach Program (PHOP) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state on July 30, 2014.

The audience of 50 behavioral healthcare professionals was thrilled to hear a presentation on how to use technology to better help their patients. The PHOP staff spent four hours engaged in dialogue with three psychologists from the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2) about their mobile apps and websites. The T2 session created a unique opportunity for the PHOP staff to be exposed to cutting-edge technology-based resources that can augment the resource and referral services they provide to their clients.

PHOP, developed in 2008 in response to a need for a psychological health “safety net” for U.S. Navy and Marine Corps reservists and their families, has licensed behavioral health professionals at 11 Navy and Marine Forces Reserve sites throughout the U.S. The PHOP teams contact each reservist in their region when they return from deployment to determine any psychological health issues that may require services or intervention, and help refer them to providers. Staff members also connect reservists and their family members with local resources for all areas of their life that can negatively or positively impact their psychological health, such as employment, education, finances and family support.

Julie Kinn, Ph.D., one of the T2 psychologists at the meeting, encouraged the attendees to consider the apps “as a resource, and ‘kick the tires’ on them to see if they are something you want to add to your toolbox”. Kinn stressed that the apps are not a replacement for treatment, but their content could serve as “an avenue for discussion”.

Some training attendees like John Gass, a social worker with the Marine PHOP Northwest team, were already familiar with T2’s mobile apps. With the majority of service members using smartphones, Gass thinks using mobile apps for psychological health “meets service members’ high-tech sweet tooth.”

One T2 app that Gass particularly likes is LifeArmor, which is the mobile component of T2’s AfterDeployment website. The tool has self-assessments to manage symptoms related to a wide range of topics, including sleep issues, depression, relationship issues and post-traumatic stress.

“The depth of information is astounding—and whoever created it took into account that people learn things differently--it has a beautiful span of learning styles,” said Gass. “And my guilty pleasure is using the Virtual Hope Box app. I use it while waiting for an appointment to keep positive thoughts in mind.”

Looking after the needs of others can be a high-stress job. Another T2 app described during the presentation was Provider Resilience, which helps health care providers guard against burnout and compassion fatigue.

“One of our primary responsibilities is taking care of ourselves,” said Gass, who uses that app as well. “The tool’s useful as an external check-in—even though it’s myself.”

Over a third of the audience, when surveyed, had a smartphone with them in the room, making this group more familiar with mobile apps than some other provider groups. During the session, Shelly McDowell, the PHOP project director, brought up the issue of getting more mental health providers to adopt technology-based care.

“Some people haven’t bought into it yet,” said McDowell. “Some colleagues aren’t comfortable with technology.” She suggested adding links to tutorials on the T2 website or that PHOP members do training for specific apps during monthly conference calls.

Kinn offered tips on evaluating mobile health apps, noting that currently there is no app review system, and that “there’s a balance between producing an app fast and testing it thoroughly. But while there’s not a lot of research, we’re just starting to get studies in that show that apps are effective.”

Cathy McDonald is the Staff Writer for the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


Read other posts by Ms. Cathy McDonald