Many people with mental illness rely on friends and relatives for help and encouragement, notes William Hudenko, a professor of psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine. Hudenko believes those “natural supports” should be part of the patient’s health care team.
But federal confidentiality rules prevent doctors from sharing information about their patients. So Hudenko has worked with colleagues at Dartmouth to develop software that complies with federal law by allowing the patient, rather than the doctor, to create a network of helpers and authorize them to communicate online with each other. It’s called Proxi-Connect, and Hudenko believes it has the potential to transform mental health treatment through better care.
“I show my patients on a computer how they can use this technology to identify the people in their lives who help them feel better and make progress,” says Hudenko. “If the patient agrees and signs a release of information, I can talk to all of them and they can talk to me and to each other. Communication among the Proxi team changes everything, because I know so much more than I learn just from spending an hour a week with my patient.”
Hudenko also helped to develop an app called Proxi-Reach. He demonstrates it on his smart phone using a fictional patient named Jane, who is battling depression. “There’s her picture in the center of the screen,” he says, “and surrounding her are the photos or names of people she trusts to help her when she needs it. If they download the app, they get an email inviting them to join her circle of care.”