VA Mobile Applications for Mental Health: Designing a Patient-Centered User Experience
VA Mobile Applications for Mental Health:
Designing a Patient-Centered User Experience
Julia Hoffman, Psy.D.
Mobile Apps Lead | Clinical Psychologist
National Center for PTSD (VA)
National Center for Telehealth & Technology (DoD)
(Barriers and Needs)
• Logistics (Geographic distance,
busy schedules, etc.)
• Intermittent symptoms / Sub-
threshold or non-disorder
• Engagement, retention, and
• Need to address whole person
with various co-occurring
• Risk of relapse
• Finite resources throughout
system ( staffing, appointments,
• Differing quality of services
available in different areas + lack
of specialty services
• Competing demands on
• Need to establish outcomes
• Limited opportunities to engage
families and communities
Mobile Applications as a Solution?
• The recent
has led to
clinical care that
address some of
The ultimate goals:
By increasing efficiency,
accessibility, and alleviating
Effective tools to provide
treatment strategies, practice
invaluable skills introduced in
therapy, improve tracking and
assessment), and improve
upon risk mitigation.
Applicable Characteristics of
Mobile App Target Users
Metrics of Success: Reach
• Increased usage of
Veterans Crisis Line
• Versioning for Canada,
Israel, Australia and for
inner-city violence and
• 2011 Winner FCC
Chairman’s Award for
• 2012 Winner ATA
• 2011 Nextgov.com Best
• 2011 Yahoo’s Top 10
Evaluation of PTSD Coach
(Kuhn et al, in submission)
• Purpose: Feasibility,
• Sample: 54 PTSD
– 40 men, 12 women
– Age ranges from 24-
69 (mean of 45)
– 48% white, 17% AA,
and 15% Hispanic
– Patients used app
– Post-use survey and
*% endorsed at “moderately” to “extremely helpful”
PE Coach is a fully 508 compliant
smartphone application for iOS and
Android devices. The app is designed to
be used in the context of face-to-face
clinical care with a trained PE provider.
• Replaces workbook, photocopies, tape
recorder to increase adherence and
decrease implementation challenges
• Adds rich media psychoeducation
• Allows various customizations to directly
correlate to VA and DoD roll outs
PFA Mobile Overview
PFA Mobile, is a fully 508 compliant
smartphone application for mobile Apple
products. The app is designed to assist
responders who provide Psychological
First Aid (PFA) to adults, families, and
children as part of an organized
PFA Mobile includes:
• Summaries of PFA fundamentals
• PFA interventions matched to specific
concerns and needs of survivors
• Mentor tips for applying PFA in the field
• A self-assessment tool for readiness to
• A survivors' needs form for simplified
data collection and easy referral
UX in a Nutshell
Solve exactly the problem you need to solve,
for a specific audience,
using only the tools you need to solve it.
• Solve a specific clinical or implementation challenge.
• Know (and constrain if necessary) your audience.
• Include no more than 5 major functions. This focus on parsimony should
be applied at every level.
• Use the language of the target audience and imagery that they can relate
to (or, at least, will not reject). All labels should be self-evident.
• Understand the science. Know what you don’t know. Map the intervention
on to the platform accordingly.
• Focus on motivation. Understand where it comes from. Learn how to
increase it. Use game mechanics, freedom of choice, interactivity, and
personalization where possible to drive continued engagement.
• Understand and accept constraints.
• Separate content from structure and function as much as possible.
• Outsource and consult as much as possible to those with “boots on the
ground” to resolve real-world implementation challenges.
• Plan for iterative design.
Julia E. Hoffman, Psy.D.
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