U.S. veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may soon have a new way to seek help for their symptoms.
NIH-funded PTSD app would use sensors to track users' stress levels
According to HHS, researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Worcester and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, are developing and testing a smartphone application called iHeal that would use sensory technology to detect physiological changes that can indicate elevated stress and anxiety.
The sensors are worn on the wrist or ankle, HHS said. They detect changes in perspiration, heart rate and other indicators, and they report them to the iHeal application.
"The computer is able to learn new patterns and characterize the physiological changes and then anticipate behavior and suggest appropriate interventions," said Dr. Edward Boyer, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in a description of the application on HHS' website.
When physiological changes occur, iHeal "asks" the user a series of questions and provides a tailored intervention. For instance, it might suggest a certain calming behavior or it might play soothing music. Depending on the severity of the changes, the application also may contact a user's counselor directly.
"Eventually, the app may also include a GPS component, so when the app becomes 'really smart,' it will recognize if the user is headed for a stressful location—perhaps a place where a person had gotten illegal drugs—and propose an intervention based on that, such as suggesting a different route," according to the HHS statement.
The application was developed using $1 million in grant money from the stimulus law, awarded by the National Institutes of Health. Last month, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department and the U.S. Defense Department launched their own PTSD smartphone application—one without iHeal's sensor technology—called PTSD Coach. It provides tips on coping with stress as well as symptom-tracking tools and local support contacts.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.