Focus mental health resource 351x275

Almost 1 in 6 people in the U.S. experience a diagnosable incident of AMI (Any Mental Illness) each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The number does not include people with developmental or substance disorders. The impact of AMI can range from no impact at all to serious functional impairment. The rate of Serious Mental Illness (SMI) is much lower but still significant. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports 1 in 25 in the U.S. — 9.8 million people — experience SMI that “substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”

Researchers at the University of Washington department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences have demonstrated the use of a smartphone app called FOCUS. FOCUS provides “automated real-time/real-place illness-management support to individuals with SMI.” The researchers surveyed a wide range of psychosocial practitioners to produce suitable mobile interventions for patients with SMI. In the study, 904 people with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder were trained to use FOCUS. After training, the patients used FOCUS on smartphones in their normal environments. The results were promising. On average, patients used FOCUS 5.2 times a day on 86.5% of the days in the study. Of the measured inventions, 68% were initiated by the patients and 32% were in response to automated prompts for medication reminders and other scheduled activities. About 90% of the patients rated the interventions highly usable and acceptable. There were also statistically significant reductions in psychotic symptoms, depression, and psychopathology.

The FOCUS intervention program for treatment of patients with SMI demonstrated its acceptability and efficacy, at least in the short term.  FOCUS has promise as an additional treatment model that can be used by patients and practitioners without requiring physical presence or even phone calls, which can improve care while controlling costs.