Mobile Health & Technology

Man using cell phone - face only partially shown

A number of researchers at Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences are harnessing technology to create effective, evidence-based and user-friendly behavioral health interventions. 

These interventions address a spectrum of behavioral health concerns, from pain management to suicide prevention and more, and are designed to support various populations, such as people living with HIV, veterans and military service members, and families of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. 

The technology modalities they’re using include mobile apps, videoconferencing and mobile neurofeedback devices—to name just a few.

Duke Behavioral Health and Technology Lab

Since 2016, researchers in the Duke Behavioral Health and Technology Lab have been conducting clinical research on the use of mobile technology to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of veterans and military service members. Their mission is to create accessible, effective and easy-to-use mobile technology solutions to common mental health concerns, so veterans can take an active role in their own path to healing.
 
The Duke Behavioral Health and Technology Lab’s current studies are supported by grants from the National Institute of Health and the United States Department of Defense.

Representative Studies

  • Testing the feasibility and effectiveness of using mobile neuromodulatory applications (iPod Touch and mobile neurofeedback devices) for reducing pain symptoms in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury 
  • Examining the feasibility, tolerability, utilization and effectiveness of using the SupportTeam mobile application (iPhone and Android) in the context of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

Interested in Participating in Research Studies?

Researchers at the Duke Behavioral Health & Technology Lab are always looking for new ways to improve health and wellbeing through the use of mobile technology and behavioral health interventions. Periodically, they have new opportunities for people to participate in their studies. If you would like to be considered for participation in a future study, please consider joining the Duke Behavioral Health and Technology Data Repository.

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Faculty & Staff

  • Eric Elbogen, PhD
  • Amber Alsobrooks, MS, MA, LPA 
  • Chase DuBois, BS
  • Megan Lanier, BS 
  • Alexandra Thompson, BS

Access to Behavioral Health for All Lab

In the Access to Behavioral Health for All Lab, led by Roger Vilardaga, PhD, researchers develop digital therapeutics (DTx) and evaluate their feasibility, efficacy and safety. In one study, they adapted and designed a smoking cessation intervention for people living with HIV. This DTx is being tested in a national remote pilot randomized controlled trial, comparing this device to a standard of care digital intervention, the National Cancer Institute’s QuitGuide app. 

Roger Vilardaga (right) in the development process of Learn to Quit with software partner colleagues.
Watch a video about the process of developing Learn to Quit. Roger Vilardaga is on the far right, pictured working with his software partners during the development of Learn to Quit.

In a second study, they’re testing the efficacy and safety of Learn to Quit, the first research-based smoking cessation app for people with severe mental illness. In this multisite randomized controlled trial, all participants will receive combined nicotine replacement therapy (patch and gum) and be randomized to receive either a DTx, or standard of care Brief Advice. This Phase III trial will compare the advantages and disadvantages of both treatment options and evaluate the cost effectiveness of each approach to inform clinical practice in this patient population.

Dr. Vilardaga also works with the Duke Clinical Research Institute to evaluate the efficacy of two industry-funded DTx for psychiatric patients.

Learn more about tobacco research in the department.

Faculty

Roger Vilardaga, PhD

Pain & Symptom Management

Tamara J. Somers, PhD, and her research group have been using mobile health technologies to extend the reach of behavioral pain management interventions for patients with cancer since 2010. 

Her early work examined the application of home-based delivery of pain management interventions to patients with cancer using videoconferencing via iPads. This work also included the use of a website for daily assessment of pain and other symptoms, as well as home practice of pain coping skills taught in the intervention. 

A large clinical trial found that home-based videoconferencing was significantly more feasible and just as efficacious as traditional in-person behavioral pain management for patients with cancer and pain. Dr. Somers’ research group has used funded work to examine similar strategies to deliver home-based mobile health interventions to patients with pain following stem cell transplant. 

Dr. Somers is currently testing the use of mobile health technologies to deliver behavioral pain management interventions to patients with cancer living in medically underserved areas in the U.S. Southeast. This intervention includes a clinical-based videoconferencing component as well as a mobile app that integrates the intervention into the patient’s daily life with assessment and intervention content. Dr. Somers routinely uses text messaging to augment the delivery of behavioral pain management interventions. 

Sarah A. Kelleher, PhD, works closely with Dr. Somers and also has a special interest in using mobile health technologies to deliver psychosocial interventions that target multiple interfering symptoms (e.g., pain, fatigue, psychological distress) in patients with cancer who experience high symptom burden and disability. 

Dr. Kelleher’s work includes NIH funding to develop and test a mobile health app-supported intervention that aims to reduce disability in stem cell transplant patients by decreasing symptom burden and increasing physical activity. This project uses wireless activity trackers (Fitbits) that sync with a study mobile app to capture and transmit activity/step count data in real-time to the study team. 

In another study, Dr. Kelleher is using a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of a mobile health coping skills training intervention targeting the unique symptom management and quality of life needs of young and middle-aged colorectal cancer patients. 

Both projects use a study mobile app to extend the intervention into the patient’s home, including patient audio/video content on coping skills, daily symptoms assessment and coping skills use tracking (which transmits to study staff in real time), and weekly text messaging and push notification reminders that include real-time personalized feedback based on coping skills use and symptoms assessment.

Learn more about pain prevention and treatment research in the department.

Faculty


Symptom Monitoring 

In another study, led by Katherine Ramos, PhD, and funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers are building and prototyping an app to support family caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease in monitoring patient symptoms. They’re collaborating with Prepped Health LLC to develop the app-based remote patient monitoring electronic platform.

Learn more about geriatric behavioral health research in the department.

Faculty

Katherine Ramos, PhD

With funding from an internal pilot grant, Jeremy Grove, PhD, is using ecological momentary assessment methods to understand how everyday alcohol use confers risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors among those with alcohol use disorder (AUD). He’s also using qualitative methods to understand if and how such individuals would be receptive to ecological momentary interventions (EMI) targeting these issues. 

Dr. Grove hopes to use this information to develop and test a smart phone-based EMI that deploys coping skills for AUD patients to reduce acute risk for suicide at critical moments in real time.  

Learn more about substance use research and suicide prevention research in the department.

Faculty

Jeremy Grove, PhD