Can a mobile application be a health care assistant? The designers of the Virtual Hope Box believe it can. Nigel Bush and his colleagues won a 2014 DoD Innovation Award for their smartphone app, which helps regulate emotions and reduce stress through personalized supportive audio, video, games, mindfulness exercises, activity planning, and other tools. The app is a virtual representation of a therapeutic tool known as a “hope box,” “crisis kit,” “self-soothing kit,” or the like: often an actual box filled with things that represent coping for the patient, such as a favorite CD or family photographs.
In an article for health.mil, Bush, a research psychologist and program manager for the Research, Outcomes and Investigations program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, said service members are “highly mobile,” and personal cellphone use is extremely high. The design team recognized that a mobile application could complement the care of a provider. Plus, “[w]e kept hearing from clinicians that patients need a customizable accessory to care.”
To that end, the Virtual Hope Box is “constantly and privately accessible,” Bush noted. The privacy is a boon for users who are reluctant to seek care due to stigma or inaccessibility. Moreover, he said, the app provides a widely varied suite of tools: “Clinicians appreciate that the content can be tailored to the unique needs of each patient.” Patients and providers work together to customize the content.
After a successful pilot, the app has been downloaded more than 50,000 times by service members and civilians alike, Bush said. Next steps include broadening the promotion of the app from one specialist clinic to an entire regional VA behavioral health system.