Dr. Smartphone, can you support my trauma? An informatics analysis study of App Store apps for trauma- and stressor-related disorders

Amanda Ting, Craig McLachlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Psychological trauma is prevalent in developed countries, with prevalence rates and treatment needs exceeding health system capacity. As telemedicine and out-of-patient care are promoted, there has been an expansion of digital apps to compliment therapeutic stages in psychological trauma. To date there are no reviews that have compared these apps and their clinical utility. This study aims to identify the availability of trauma- and stressor-related mhealth apps, assess their functionality, and review their therapeutic abilities. Methodology: The authors conducted a systematic search using an iPhone 13 Pro in the Australian IOS App Store to extract trauma- and stressor-related apps that resulted from the search criteria. A cross-adaptation of the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS) and the Comprehensive App Evaluation Model (CAEM) were used as a framework to produce the mTrauma App Evaluation Conceptual Model and Informatics Framework. App content descriptors were analysed based on their general characteristics, usability, therapeutic focus, clinical utility, data integration. Following an applicability in concordance with psychological trauma-informed delivery. Results: A total of 234 apps resulting from the search strategy were screened, with 81 apps that met the inclusion criteria. The majority of apps were marketed to 4+ to 17+ years of age, categorised as 'health and fitness', with the highest target markets observed for adolescents, children, parents, clinicians, and clients. A total of 43 apps (53.1%) contained a trauma-informed specified section, and 37 (45.7%) incorporated a section useful to support trauma-related symptoms. A significant number of apps there was an absence of therapeutic utility (in 32 apps (39.5%)). Most apps were supporting post-traumatic stress disorder-informed, cognitive behavioural therapy and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing. Provision of psychoeducation, courses, guided sessions, trainings, self-reflection/journaling, symptom management and progress tracking were highly present. Conclusions: Trauma-informed mobile apps are available in the App Store, expanding in its target market reach and usability, with an increase of creative psychotherapies being introduced alongside conventional modalities. However, based on the app descriptors, the scarcity of evidenced-based testimonials and therapeutic applicability remains questionable for clinical validity. Although mhealth tools are marketed as trauma-related, current available apps employ a multifunctional approach to general psychological symptomatology, through to associated comorbid conditions and emphasizes on passive activity. For higher uptake on user engagement, clinical application and validity, trauma-apps require curated specification to fulfil its role as complimentary psychological treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15366
JournalPeerJ
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • Digital health
  • mHealth
  • Mobile applications
  • mTrauma
  • Trauma-informed

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