VA starts trial of mobile app to help manage PTSD symptoms

The Department of Veterans Affairs is assessing the efficacy of a mobile application to teach patients to self-manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The trial is set up to determine the relative advantage of the app in combination with physician support versus its use alone.

The PTSD Coach app--Courtesy of Department of Veterans Affairs

Based at the Syracuse VA Medical Center, the clinical study is slated to complete in December. After an initial exploratory phase, the trial of the PTSD Coach app will be a two-arm, 16-week study of 30 veterans with PTSD.

In the clinician-supported PTSD Coach arm, patients receive four 20-minute sessions--two in-person and two via phone--focused on instructions for the use of the app, setting symptom reduction goals and assigning specific activities within the app, such as assessments, management strategies, psycho-educational readings, for patients to complete alone.

In the self-managed arm, patients get a brief 10-minute physician introduction to the app but are then left to their own devices in its use.

The study is intended to determine "the feasibility of recruiting and retaining participants" in either a clinician-supported or a self-managed regimen, as well as the efficacy of the app in the reduction in PTSD symptoms including depression and general distress, knowledge of PTSD and initiation of further treatment.

To qualify for the study, patients must have "significant PTSD symptoms" with a PTSD Checklist Score ≥ 40. Patients can be excluded from the study based on several measures including gross cognitive impairment, suicidality or the recent initiation of mental health counseling or medication for PTSD.

The VA said that about 11% to 20% of veterans from recent military operations have PTSD in any given year, a rate that ranges higher than estimates from previous actions such as the Gulf War (12%) and the Vietnam War (15%).

Last year, the agency distributed more than 10,000 tablets to physicians and launched a mobile app story with more than a dozen apps, The Washington Post reported earlier this month. The PTSD Coach app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times already.

- here's a description of the trial
- and a story in mobihealthnews