A mobile app originally developed to aid veterans has been offered to mental health personnel helping Hurricane Sandy’s victims, an example of how innovation and technology within the federal government can have a broader reach than ever before.
The Department of Veterans Affairs sent a notice to a national list of emergency responders or their organizations last week about the Psychological First Aid (PFA Mobile) app for disaster responders. The app aids mental health providers and other response workers who provide Psychological First Aid (PFA) to children and adults affected by disaster.
Since the notice was sent, the app has been downloaded more than 1,800 times, according to the VA. Downloads have been increasing steadily in the past week, said Kathleen Frisbee, Director of Web and Mobile Solutions in the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Informatics and Analytics.
“The response networks that organize disaster response are marketing PFA Mobile to their trained responders right now and suggesting it as a tool to be used to support provision of Psychological First Aid,” Frisbee said in an email.
Though it’s too early to gauge effectiveness, the office plans to solicit feedback after the response effort has been completed.
PFA Mobile was launched in July by the VA as part of its plans to expand mobile apps for veterans. PFA was built as a general resource for emergency responders and guides them in the protocol for managing the immediate after-effects of a disaster, including psychological trauma or grieving. Content includes tools for intervention, with examples of how to handle various kinds of situations and leading to prompts for implementation and resources available. It also provides responders with summaries of PFA fundamentals, PFA interventions matched to specific concerns and needs of survivors, mentor tips for applying PFA in the field, a self-assessment tool for readiness to conduct PFA, and a survivors’ needs form for simplified data collection and easy referral.
PFA Mobile was created by VA’s National Center for PTSD in partnership with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) and DoD’s National Center for Telehealth & Technology.
Julia Hoffman, clinical psychologist with the VA’s National Center for PTSD, said PFA Mobile “was crafted to meet the real-world implementation challenges associated with provision of high quality psychological care immediately following an emergency.”
She added: “Successful disaster response is challenging for various reasons related to the situation, the survivors’ needs, and even the readiness of the provider to handle the myriad stressors associated with response efforts.”