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ONC calls for behavioral mHealth in new app challenge

By Jennifer Bresnick

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), are looking for innovative mobile-based solutions to some of the most common health conditions in the country: behavioral health disorders and substance abuse.  The Behavioral Health Patient Empowerment Challenge is intended to showcase existing products rather than prompt the development of new ones, with the prize for the top app being a demonstration at the Technology Innovations for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders Conference taking place at the White House in September.

“Behavioral health disorders are common in the United States.  Approximately 20% of adults and 13% of adolescents suffer from mental disorders each year and 8.7% of Americans aged 12 and older experience substance dependence or abuse each year,” the Challenge website explains. “Rates of mental health problems are significantly higher for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart conditions and failure to treat both physical and mental health conditions results in poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs. Yet despite the high personal and societal burden of these disorders fewer than half of adults and only one-third of children with mental disorders and only 11 percent of individuals with substance use disorders receive treatment.”

By raising the profile of mHealth solutions that are available to patients who may not be able to afford ongoing professional care but who are already familiar with smartphones and tablets, the ONC hopes to increase outreach and provide a simple way for patients to stay on track with their health.  “Health IT has significant potential to enable self-management of behavioral health disorders (including both mental health and substance use disorders) as well as to act as a treatment extender for patients with limited access to care,” the website says.

The developers or representatives of the top three apps will be invited to the White House event on September 16, and will have their products featured on a behavioral health technology innovation website being developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in conjunction with the conference.  Developers interested in entering the contest, which closes on September 3, can read more information here.

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