VA begins clinical trial of mobile app PTSD Coach

By Jonah Comstock
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PTSD CoachAccording to a posting on ClinicalTrials.gov, the US Department of Veterans Affairs is embarking on a new clinical trial of its PTSD Coach app, to test whether the app is more effective with clinician support.

After a first phase of interviews with primary care and mental health practitioners, investigators will move onto a small 16-week study of 30 veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who will be randomized to either clinician-supported or self-managed interaction with the app. The study has two goals: investigators will assess the feasibility of recruiting participants and get a preliminary read on the efficacy of the technology with and without clinician supervision.

They will compare patients based on "a) reductions in PTSD, depression, and general distress, and increases in health-related functioning, b) increases in knowledge about PTSD symptoms, PTSD management strategies, and patient coping self-efficacy, c) increases in initiation of tradition PTSD treatments," according to the post. The trial will be conducted at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

According to the VA, 7 to 8 percent of American adults have PTSD, and for returning veterans that number goes up to 11 to 20 percent. PTSD Coach is one of the VA's oldest mobile health applications; it launched in April 2011. In 2013, it resurfaced as one of the flagship apps in the VA's new app store, still in its pilot phase at the time. The app offers a self-assessment tool, information about PTSD, a portal to connect with others, and tools that help veterans manage their PTSD. Some PTSD management tools include relaxation skills, positive thinking, anger management and other self-help strategies.

PTSD Coach is not the only PTSD-related app in the VA App Store. It also includes PE Coach, an app that assists with prolonged exposure therapy, a PTSD treatment. Earlier this month, VA officials told the Washington post that the VA distributed more than 10,000 tablets to clinicians when its app store launched last year, and has seen 300,000 downloads of the apps since launch. In addition, nearly half of veterans undergoing prolonged exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress syndrome use the PE Coach app.