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Improving Health Outcomes with Smartphones

Vinfen is committed to exploring how smartphone technology can support people in their mental health recovery and pursuit of better health.  With so many Apps out there geared toward health, Vinfen teamed up with Dr. John TorousDigital Psychiatry Division at Beth Israel Lahey Health, a Harvard Medical School affiliated teaching hospital, to launch a program where the use of mobile technology helps people with social inclusion and mental health.

The program was hosted by Vinfen’s Webster House. Clubhouses are psychosocial rehabilitation programs run by and for people with serious mental illness that offer social activities, education, art, life skills, and support with employment. Clubhouses are an ideal setting for the Smartphone Wellness Group Program.

At Webster House, Vinfen and Beth Israel Lahey Health held two four-week sessions where members were invited to learn more about how to use their cellphones and how technology can be a resource for wellness. Liza Hoffman, MSW, LICSW, and Vinfen Program Development Manager Jessie Wolfe worked with members in each class to explore the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) eight dimensions of wellness, and how people can use smartphones to work on individual goals. These dimensions include emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational, and social wellness.

Jessie has been involved with research and a preliminary survey of One Care Health Home members, who are people with psychiatric conditions with co-occurring medical and/or substance use disorders. “We’ve found that fewer participants reported owning smartphones than compared to the ownership rate of the overall United States adult population, and that while there are barriers to access and use, people reported being interested in learning how to use smartphones.”

Technology can be a powerful tool that can help many people. “We’re realizing that unless people have the functional skills they won’t be able to take advantage of all the technology that is being developed on their behalf,” Liza commented. The Smartphone Wellness Group’s purpose is to teach people essential smartphone skills so they can then use these skills to improve their health and progress in their mental health recovery.

Each weekly session consisted of group discussions, one-on-one support, and guided exercises. One of the most memorable moments was how much members became fully emerged in the mindfulness check-in and exercise. “People really liked being able to slow down and check-in on how they are doing and appreciate what was going on in that moment,” Liza explained. Mark, a person receiving services from Vinfen, couldn’t agree more with how impactful this class has been for him in his life. He believes the class is extremely informative and fosters an environment of learning about improving one’s self through the use of technology. “You learn some coping skills to help you with daily living and about wellness, health, mental health, and communication with being around others,” he expressed. Mark also added, “It’s a good way to improve your well-being. I’d say I would recommend it for anyone else who wants to do better with themselves.” Liza enjoyed working with all the members. “There were a number of moments where I saw people being really creative in terms of how to make this technology more accessible. For example, Mark brought in a stylus he had bought at the dollar store that helped him with his typing on the screen,” Liza shared. She also found it incredibly inspiring how important it was for those in the class to work on their own definition of wellness and their eagerness and desire to learn.

Liza believes that especially as younger generations have been born into such a technological-savvy world, they then end up taking for granted all the ways that smartphones are a part of our everyday lives and improve our well-being. Everything from requesting a ride, tracking where a bus or train is, accessing a guided meditation, watching an exercise tutorial – the list is endless of ways having a smart phone can improve lives and access to these tools should be for everyone. “It’s really important that these kinds of groups happen to give people the skills, knowledge, and confidence to use their phone,” she voiced.

Vinfen’s Vice President of Integrated Care and Innovation Kim Shellenberger has been working hard on obtaining the funding to continue this program so more classes can be held, and to expand the program to engage members as technology navigators and offer more opportunities for dedicated help with drop in sessions. “There is tremendous potential to use digital technology to help people in their daily life, and also to improve health and make progress in their recovery,” Kim stated. Jessie added, “Piloting these groups at the Clubhouses will allow us to gain a better understanding of the types of strategies that are effective in engaging individuals to use smartphones in their wellness and recovery goals.” With such an apparent need, Vinfen and Beth Israel Lahey Health have high hopes of the expansion and impact of this program to help people and their journey of wellness.