FIRST LOOK: Mobile Apps: Bridging the Mental Health Treatment Gap

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Barriers to accessing evidence-based mental health treatment include a lack of available providers, high costs, and stigma. Technology-delivered interventions, such as Smartphone apps, present a promising avenue for reducing barriers. To this end, in partnership with Telefónica Alpha, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) OCD and Related Disorders program is developing and pilot testing a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) app for individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

This collaboration capitalizes on the synthesis of MGH’s clinical and research expertise, along with Telefónica Alpha’s design and technology expertise, to produce a high quality, evidence-based, mobile CBT app for a severe psychiatric body image disorder. To date, we have developed a beta version of the app and are testing its feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy in an iterative open pilot trial. After establishing a finalized version, we will further test the app’s efficacy in a randomized waitlist-controlled trial.

Next steps: We are collecting passive sensor data (e.g., mobility, sleep) that will be used to personalize treatment in later app versions. For example, we aim to passively detect clinically relevant changes to users’ mental health status (e.g., increased depression or BDD symptoms, times when users get “stuck” doing rituals), to provide real-time intervention suggestions delivered via the app. Moreover, CBT is the first-line psychosocial treatment for many psychiatric disorders, beyond BDD. We therefore designed the app to incorporate each of the primary universal components of CBT and we plan to adapt our CBT app for other clinical use cases, by making disorder-relevant modifications.

For more information about Dr. Wilhelm’s research, please contact Partners HealthCare Innovation by clicking here.

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