New Mobile App Helps Troops to Self-Manage Behavior, Stress

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Pfc. Nicholas Johnson, a software developer before joining the Army, demonstrates a smartphone application he designed to Gen. Robert Cone, commander of Training and Doctrine Command. (Photo by Annie

Posted by Robyn Mincher, DCoE Strategic Communications
November 21, 2011

Most of us know what a mobile application is—chances are if you own a smartphone, you have downloaded not one, but multiple apps and for various purposes. I, for example, depend on my weather app to know if I should grab my umbrella, or leave it at home.

Standing apart from weather, music and game apps are a new genre of smartphone programs specifically designed for troops and health care providers. These apps, developed by National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a center of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), address a more serious matter: psychological health and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I spoke with Dr. Nancy Kao Rhiannon, a T2 psychologist and mobile application program manager, about some of these new apps (soon to hit the market) and how specifically the military community can benefit from using them.

“In the military, there’s a certain demographic that uses mobile applications regularly—around 60 percent of service members download apps on their smartphones,” said Rhiannon. “We saw that we could leverage this technology to help improve their psychological health.”

These new mobile apps, developed for both service members, concerned significant others and providers can help users cope with psychological concerns, and aid providers in diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and TBI.

Here are a few we discussed:

PE Coach – Helps providers treat psychological health concerns of service members through prolonged exposure, which according to Rhiannon, is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. Users go through a series of steps on their phone that exposes them to images of events on the battlefield, helping them engage and remember experiences, rather than avoid them. This app helps users self-monitor their behavior and educates them about PTSD and resources for coping.

Life Armor – This mobile app derived from is a resource for service members, veterans and their families experiencing common post-deployment issues.

“What’s great about this app is that topics addressed on the website can now be easily accessed from a smartphone,” said Rhiannon. “Service members can learn, self-manage, watch videos and search for resources in various topics surrounding deployment challenges.”

T2 has also developed three mobile apps for providers that assist in diagnosing TBI and psychological health concerns, and help them cope with compassion fatigue.

Provider Resilience – Is a self-care tool for providers who might be experiencing compassion fatigue while caring for others. The app provides behavior management techniques, a countdown clock that monitors leave time, tracks resilience progress, and has fun ways to boost resilience.

“The app displays a daily cartoon for a good laugh, and providers can benefit from inspirational value cards,” Rhiannon said. “It’s well-understood that providers and caregivers are at risk for vicarious trauma in their high-tempo, high-stress jobs, and this app can help prevent compassion fatigue.”

Co-occurring Conditions Toolkit – One of the most downloaded DCoE resources will soon be available on a smartphone. The mobile version of the toolkit contains the entire comprehensive clinical guidance tool to help primary care providers assess and manage patients with co-occurring mild TBI and psychological health disorders.

Mobile Screener (not available to the public) – Assists providers in screening psychological vital signs and sends the information to a secure server for further analysis.

“This app can be used in the field, helping a medic screen a service member after a critical incident, provide a quick screen if a service member goes to a clinic, or monitor high-risk patients in between provider sessions,” Rhiannon said.

Just like I use my weather app to keep me dry, perhaps service members will start to check in on their psychological health every day. As more and more service members and veterans become acquainted with mobile applications, they can use these tools privately anytime in the comfort of their own homes, increasing their access to psychological health care.

To see the current T2 apps and keep up on new apps, check out T2’s mobile applications page.

*The mTBI Pocket Guide mobile app is now available for free download on iPhone. The app is a comprehensive resource for providers, on the treatment and management of patients with mild TBI and related symptoms.
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