Psychiatry resident develops mental-health screening iPhone app

Story Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2014 15:05:00 EDT

An EVMS Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences resident has developed a unique tool to help quickly assess someone’s mental health using just a smartphone.

Chief Resident William Lemley, MD, launched the “Psych on Demand” app as a way to provide screening and assessment tools for clinicians and other service providers, such as nurses and guidance counselors — even students and, potentially, patients themselves. It has gained praise from medical colleagues since debuting in Apple’s App Store in January.

“I have been waiting for a medical app like this,” P.J. Lally, MD, wrote in a review on iMedicalApps.com.

The project started back in 2009 with the idea of a study guide, but as he started working on it, Dr. Lemley thought the concept might have broader applicability.

“I realized that we lacked access to standardized and validated psychiatric measures,” he says, “and many of us [medical students] didn’t know how to use the tools that we had, nor did we have them in a format that was portable and used the smartphone technology that was becoming really popular at the time.”

Dr. Lemley, who has a degree in computer science, taught himself how to work in Apple’s coding environment and to use the specific coding language — Objective-C, for the technologically inclined — required to build the app. He pulled the content within the software from various publicly available resources and incorporated many commonly used assessment tools; although, some haven’t been included yet because of copyright constraints. Building the app has been an arduous, years-long task.

He's made two updates so far, and among the developments he’s eyeing for the future are features that make it easier to track specific patients, and the ability to integrate data into electronic medical records systems. The next update will expand the app to work seamlessly with the Guided Access feature, which allows the clinician to safeguard protected health information by ensuring the patient can access only the self-assessment they are completing.

"This is just the beginning,” Dr. Lemley says. “With iOS 8 on the horizon, integration of Psych on Demand with Apple's HealthKit could offer new ways to track a patient’s progress."

Using the app is simple. Users select from a series of options to navigate to the information relevant to the situation at hand. For instance, to check for PTSD, you would tap the drop-down menu for "trauma disorders" and find a series of quick-screening questions.

So far, the app has been downloaded several hundred times and is being used in places like the Hampton and Chesapeake Community Service Boards. Dr. Lemley also is hoping to make others aware of it through organizations such as the Association of Directors of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry.

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