By Cristina Mestre
A new project is looking at how the Internet might play a role in
helping patients with depression and/or anxiety. If proven effective, this
innovative approach could have a significant impact on the treatment of
depression and anxiety in primary care, where the majority of patients with
these conditions seek help.
Thousands of websites provide general health and disease-specific
information, and the number of Internet support groups (ISGs) where the public
can actively exchange information about treatments is growing as the costs to
develop these systems has continued to drop. Some health-related sites have
evolved into large-scale information sharing sites with thousands of members
organized into numerous disease-specific ISGs, such as the site PatientsLikeMe
or the use of social media by diabetes patients as
reported by NPR
. These sites permit
members to share treatment and symptom information and provide peer-support
using a variety of online tools.
Aware of the latest advances in “e-mental health," the University
of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Bruce L. Rollman, M.D.,M.P.H.
, received a $2.6M
grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
to test the
comparative-effectiveness of combining an ISG with Beating the Blues, the
online computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT) program presently being
deployed by UPMC
The NIMH-funded Online Treatment for Mood and Anxiety Disorders Trial
is presently enrolling depressed and anxious patients aged 18 to 75 from 22
UPMC-affiliated primary care offices across western Pennsylvania. Eligible patients referred by their UPMC
primary care physician to the trial may be randomized to the ISG where they can
access discussion boards and other treatment resources, communicate with other
study patients, and use the CCBT program under the direction of a study care
manager. Co-investigator and
psychiatrist Jordan Karp, M.D.
, associate professor of Psychiatry, is an active
presence on the ISG along with care manager and ISG moderator Chris Wiltrout,
Other ISG features available for
trial participants include:
- An extensive list of national and local resources
for depression and anxiety.
- RSS feeds on the latest consumer mental health
- Direct access to UPMC HealthTrak and the Beating the Blues program.
- A mobile version which allows patients with
smartphones to take the ISG with them wherever they go.
Although the leading ISGs today are independent of any organized health
care delivery system such as UPMC, Dr. Rollman anticipates these technologies
will soon be “branded” and deployed by health care organizations experimenting
with social media. Still, few randomized
trials have evaluated the psychologic benefits of ISGs, and none were linked to
patients’ routine source of primary care or any other organized health care
delivery system as the Online Treatment for Mood and Anxiety Disorders Trial is
If ISGs are proven effective
and cost-effective, Dr. Rollman believes they will be widely adopted throughout
the U.S. to improve patient care for many other health conditions.