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UW Develops Substance Abuse Adherence mHealth Application

A new substance abuse adherence app developed at the University of Wisconsin is up for a $100K grant award.

A new app helps with substance abuse adherence

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

- Researchers from the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies (CHESS) developed an mHealth app for substance abuse adherence that is a finalist for an $100,000 grant award from the Harvard Innovation in American Government program.

The app, called A-CHESS, provides users a forum to talk to other recovering addicts, a panic button that notifies friends or family if the person is having an urge to relapse, and a GPS locator to help the recovering user stay away from risky areas such as bars.

“Based on randomized clinical trials, A-CHESS users are 65 percent more likely to remain sober after leaving an inpatient treatment service,” said David Gustafson, industrial and systems engineering emeritus research professor and the principal investigator at CHESS.

Since A-CHESS has potential to improve the lives of millions struggling with substance abuse, the team was invited to present the app on at the Harvard Innovations in Government Competition on May 17th.

A-CHESS, along with six other finalists, was selected among an entrant pool of 500 programs.

The award generates significant national attention, as governments at state and local levels use the finalists’ ideas to drive positive change at all levels of society. Should the A-CHESS team receive the award, they could drastically improve the scope and capability of their app.

The developers of A-CHESS realized the smartphone is a powerful medium in promoting adherence because of how accessible and functional apps can be for users.

“You need something like a smartphone app because people need to get into a treatment center to get help, but they need help afterwards too,” CHESS Deputy Director Fiona McTavish said.

Other features in the app include access to articles about addiction, games to distract users from negative thoughts, meditation music, quick tips and refusal skills, counselor messaging, questions that monitor their progress, and other GPS functions that let users know where recovery meetings are available.

Apps and mHealth present a unique opportunity to promote adherence, and positive self-care behaviors, as evidence by modern research.

Other behaviors that negatively affect health, such as smoking, may soon be easily mitigate through intuitive smartphone interfaces and digital support.

Adherence apps also have potential to improve access to care for many patients who may need care services outside of normal office hours, or those who cannot afford or access a provider when necessary.

“The current system is just incapable of meeting the needs of the people who are out there,” Gustafson said. “There’s not enough staff — there will never be enough staff — so we wanted to see what else could be done.”


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