Dr. Emerson joins national panel studying best apps for depression

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC public relations | December 02, 2019

Image with caption: Margaret Emerson, D.N.P.

Margaret Emerson, D.N.P.

There's an app for almost anything, including depression. In fact, about 325,000 applications or "apps" exist related to mental health.

So how do providers know which one to suggest?

Margaret Emerson, D.N.P., a psychiatric nurse practitioner and assistant professor in the UNMC College of Nursing Omaha Division, has been selected as one of 12 members of the American Psychiatric Association's App Advisor Expert Panel.

"Apps can be used to reinforce evidence-based treatments for depression, things like cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise engagement, and promoting adherence to treatment recommendations," Dr. Emerson said. "A lot of providers want to start using apps in care but are not sure where to start. We want to encourage the use of technology to help the self-management of mental health in nontraditional settings."

The panel will explore the process for evaluating apps to enhance the ability of clinicians and patients to make informed decisions about apps that will best meet their needs. It also will provide reviews of apps that offer insight into how the model can function as an easy, efficient, and quick evaluative tool in practice.

Some of Dr. Emerson's experience comes from a study she and her colleagues are conducting at Nebraska Medicine's Midtown and Fontanelle clinics. They are evaluating the use of existing mobile apps to see how patients respond to apps and if they foresee these apps or features as a means to supplement their depression treatment.

Researchers are surveying patients and behavioral health providers on certain apps -- what they like about them, what they don't like about them -- to best augment treatment.

"We're taking existing apps to see which ones patients and providers like. This will enable us to tailor the technology to these preferences. I don't think one app is going to be sufficient for every person," she said.

Dr. Emerson said she was surprised the panel chose her. She doesn't consider herself to be a huge tech-savvy person but sees technology as an opportunity to enhance her practice.

"I am extremely excited to be involved with this initiative and honored to have been selected," Dr. Emerson said. "I think it's a beginning of a new opportunity to collaborate with APA for research."

Besides Dr. Emerson, other faculty involved in the pilot study are: Suhasani Kotcherlakota, Ph.D., College of Nursing; Shinobu Watanabe Galloway, Ph.D., College of Public Health; Jennifer Caspari Ph.D., and Maxine Notice, Ph.D., College of Medicine; and Danae Dinkel, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Education.

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