By Cristina Mestre
A smartphone app to help children with anxiety disorders that was developed by University of Pittsburgh researchers has been recognized at a national conference for its ability to empower consumers.
The SmartCAT, short for smartphone-enhanced child anxiety treatment, is a mobile health platform that was
developed by Jennifer Silk, Ph.D.
, and Bambang Parmanto, Ph.D
., along with Dr. Parmanto’s graduate student Gede Pramana, all from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. It was recognized as one of three winners of the Behavioral Health Patient Empowerment Challenge
earlier this week at the Technology Innovations for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders Conference at the White House.
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information
Technology (ONC), in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and National Institutes of
Health (NIH) held the conference to highlight
how technology can be used to improve mental health. For example, University of Pittsburgh School
of Medicine professor Bruce
Rollman, MD, presented his
research on using the Internet to treat
mood and anxiety disorders.
Each year, approximately 13 percent of adolescents
experience mental illness, and between 10 to 20 percent of school-aged youth are
diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Yet
according to SAMHSA, only one-third of children with mental health issues
receive treatment, and many children continue to struggle with symptoms even
after treatment. Fortunately, technology can play a significant role in helping
individuals with mental illness to self -manage their behavioral health and to
The SmartCAT is designed to improve cognitive behavioral treatments for children with anxiety
disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy
(CBT) involves teaching children skills for coping with their anxiety and
practicing the skills with a therapist, and has been recognized as an effective
treatment. However, many children
continue to have symptoms of anxiety even after weekly therapy sessions.
Silk and Parmanto believe that if children use technology
to practice the skills they are learning in treatment on a daily basis, instead
of just once a week in the clinic, they may get better faster, and stay better
For this reason, SmartCAT is designed to improve treatment for
children by allowing them to practice CBT while they go about their daily lives,
through the use of their smart phones. The app provides coaching to patients when and where they need it (not
just in their therapist’s office), increases communications between therapists
and patients, and helps therapists track progress and personalize treatment by
focusing on patient-specific needs and strengths. All communications in SmartCAT are also secure,
says Dr. Silk.
Children are prompted to complete a series of questions
about their emotions and a series of coping thoughts and problem solving steps
used to deal with the situation. This
information is sent to a therapist ‘portal’ where it can be monitored. The therapist is therefore able to review
patients’ real-world CBT skill use, monitor their progress, and send treatment
materials (e.g. a relaxation video) and encouraging messages.
Children can earn prizes for using the app,
notes Dr. Parmanto. This encourages them
to use the app and keep them engaged. The team is also working on developing
skill-building video games to the app, to make it even more engaging for
results of the app’s use are promising, and feedback from both patients and
therapists has been overwhelmingly positive,” added Silk. “Technology is enabling us to explore a whole
new world of treatment options for our patients.”
Labels: adolescent medicine, anxiety disorders, University of Pittsburgh