Accelerating Best Practices in Peer Support Around the World
4.24.14

Smart Phone Apps: The Latest Way to Deliver Peer Support

Clayton Velicer, MPH

Earlier this month we highlighted a mobile app called HelpAround and the boom of apps supporting chronic disease management. In this blog, we’ll look at some other mobile apps that are linking mHealth and peer support.

Texas Veterans App

We have blogged about some of the state and federal efforts to provide peer support services to veterans in the field of mental health. The newest app from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) continues this effort by providing services that Texas Governor Rick Perry describes as an  “an innovative way to help connect our veterans with the resources and services they need and deserve.” The app provides three primary features:

1) Immediate access to the national Veterans Crisis Line and the Hotline for Women Veterans. Both are free, confidential 24-hour phones line staffed by qualified responders within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans, as well as family and friends, can call this line for mental health support and help overcoming challenges in the transition back to civilian life.

2) Connect With Texas Veterans. This feature connects users with members of the Texas Military Peer Network, an affiliation of Texas service members, veterans, and their families. The network aims to provide peer support and trusted information, as well as share community resources available to veterans in Texas.

3) Texas Veterans Portal. This feature connects the user with a comprehensive list of local, state, and federal services and benefits.

Suzanna Hupp, the HHSC associate commissioner for veteran services underscores the value of this new app for veterans in Texas, “Every Texas veteran, and everyone who knows and supports veterans, should have this app on their phone.”

The potential success of this app may lead adoption by other states that want to reach veterans or other populations that stand to benefit from peer support services.

InstaPeer

InstaPeer has yet to wrap up its crowdfunding campaign, but the app has already received media coverage as a potentially powerful source of peer support for young adults battling cancer. The app was developed by Stupid Cancer, a leading youth cancer non-profit in the U.S.

It has been described as “a revolutionary mobile health app that brings one-on-one peer connection into the 21st century for 20 million Americans affected by young adults with cancer.” Matthew Zachary, company CEO and himself a cancer survivor, said the platform will help “revolutionize cancer support for the next generation and usher in a new era of patient empowerment and advocacy”.

Media coverage for the app has argued that many of today’s peer matching solutions are call center-based and may not be in sync with the social engagement patterns of a new generation of young adults battling cancer.

Instapeer will meet the underserved needs of millennial patients, survivors, and caregivers with the technology and terms that they regularly use, increasing the chances of user uptake. The organization anticipates over 500,000 users adopting by 2016.

OneHealth Mobile App

In December of 2013, the OneHealth mobile app won an award for most innovative new product with an app that ties together social networking technology, clinical principals and health coaches to engage individuals in behavior change and improve health outcomes of targeted population groups.

The app integrates behavioral, chronic condition, and moderated mental health support, allowing users to connect to real-time peer support 24/7 through mobile phone, tablet, or computer. Studies found that 58% of users have logged in more than 3 times, and join an average of 3.8 communities.

Some of the communities in the app include alcohol addiction, depression, heart health, cancer, stress reduction, diabetes, obesity, tobacco cessation, and caregiver support. Users can connect with likeminded individuals as well as invite friends and family members to support them. Other functions of the app include setting health goals and commitments, a function for providing positive reinforcement to peers, and access to OneHealth coaches and healthcare experts.

A unique feature of this app is an emoticon-based check-in system that is linked to real-time interventions for high-risk users that may need instant support from their peer network.

Final Thoughts

Through these apps and many others, we are seeing the emergence of a new mode of delivering peer support for a range of conditions and populations. The Texas Veterans App illustrates the potential for state-run apps, while InstaPeer may fill the need for app-based delivery to reach young people that aren’t reached through conventional peer support channels. We encourage our readers to share their experiences with other new technologies for peer support delivery to feature in future blogs.

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