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Sharp Health News

Studying schizophrenia in the digital age

April 12, 2017

Studying schizophrenia in the digital age

Approximately 2.4 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, one of the leading causes of long term-disability.

Individuals with the illness can struggle with hallucinations, delusions, social withdrawal and impairments in cognition and social functioning.

The first five years after the onset of symptoms in schizophrenia is known as the “critical period,” a time during which patients are at a high risk for relapse, hospitalizations and suicide.

The Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital Clinical Research Center, working in collaboration with Janssen Research & Development, LLC, designed a two-year study of an intervention program named the Sustainable Early Episode Clinic (SEEC). The main goal of the study is to evaluate the impact of the SEEC on relapse as it compares to “usual care.”

The SEEC study is now enrolling patients who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder within the past five years. Dr. Michael Plopper, medical director of clinical trials at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.

The SEEC program is designed in three phases. In the first phase, participants are provided with in-depth education about their illness and coping strategies through structured classes and a mobile smartphone app known as Care4Today® Connect . The app enables patients to receive reminders to take medication and perform actions related to their wellness goals, and track completion of these tasks.

“People with schizophrenia often have memory, attention and concentration challenges as part of their illness, so having a tool to help prompt them to complete tasks could be really valuable,” says Shayna Kelleher, LCSW, program manager for Sharp Mesa Vista’s SEEC program. “It’s as if the mobile phone becomes a part of the treatment team.”

The SEEC team will use the Care4Today® Connect mobile app to help monitor patients’ self-reported progress, and increase support or interventions as needed.

“If a patient stops responding, this may be an indication that they are starting to struggle. It alerts us to check in on them, “says Kelleher.

In the second phase, study participants will attend group therapy sessions less frequently and receive more individualized services to support personal goals such as going back to school, getting involved in the community or acquiring employment. The SEEC team will support participants by linking them with community services. Individual therapy and peer support services are also provided for additional support.

In the last phase of the study, participants will continue using the app, working more independently on their goals and attending a monthly meeting and check-in.

“So many times the focus is on the illness,” says Betty Templeton, CPRP-CTRS, program coordinator for Sharp Mesa Vista’s SEEC program. “This study is designed to help people look outside of their illness and turn it into a smaller, more manageable piece of their lives.”

In order to help provide patients’ loved ones with needed support, the SEEC offers education and support groups for family members and caregivers. They are also encouraged to participate in monthly meetings with patients and their therapists.

The SEEC program is the first of its kind at the hospital as it extends care beyond a patient’s discharge from an intensive outpatient program, currently the final level of clinical treatment offered by Sharp Mesa Vista.

Although the study is intended to last two years, the program facilitators believe there is a benefit to patients developing long-term, trusting relationships with the same treatment team, further supporting the patient’s recovery.

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