Applying the Principles for Digital Development: Case Study of a Smartphone App to Support Collaborative Care for Rural Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or Bipolar Disorder

Background: Despite a proliferation of patient-facing mobile apps for mental disorders, there is little literature guiding efforts to incorporate mobile tools into clinical care delivery and integrate patient-generated data into care processes for patients with complex psychiatric disorders.

Objective: The aim of this study was to seek to gain an understanding of how to incorporate a patient-provider mobile health (mHealth) platform to support the delivery of integrated primary care–based mental health services (Collaborative Care) to rural patients with posttraumatic stress disorder and/or bipolar disorder.

Methods: Using the Principles for Digital Development as a framework, we describe our experience designing, developing, and deploying a mobile system to support Collaborative Care. The system consists of a patient-facing smartphone app that integrates with a Web-based clinical patient registry used by behavioral health care managers and consulting psychiatrists. Throughout development, we engaged representatives from the system’s two user types: (1) providers, who use the Web-based registry and (2) patients, who directly use the mobile app. We extracted mobile metadata to describe the early adoption and use of the system by care managers and patients and report preliminary results from an in-app patient feedback survey that includes a System Usability Scale (SUS).

Results: Each of the nine Principles for Digital Development is illustrated with examples. The first 10 patients to use the smartphone app have completed symptom measures on average every 14 days over an average period of 20 weeks. The mean SUS score at week 8 among four patients who completed this measure was 91.9 (range 72.5-100). We present lessons learned about the technical and training requirements for integration into practice that can inform future efforts to incorporate health technologies to improve care for patients with psychiatric conditions.

Conclusions: Adhering to the Principles for Digital Development, we created and deployed an mHealth system to support Collaborative Care for patients with complex psychiatric conditions in rural health centers. Preliminary data among the initial users support high system usability and show promise for sustained use. On the basis of our experience, we propose five additional principles to extend this framework and inform future efforts to incorporate health technologies to improve care for patients with psychiatric conditions: design for public health impact, add value for all users, test the product and the process, acknowledge disruption, and anticipate variability.