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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Project to Improve Care/Services to Persons with Mental Illness

August 28, 2007

Researchers in University of Texas at Arlington College of Engineering and School of Social Work have received a two-year, $404,900 award from the National Institutes of Health/National Library of Medicine to develop a drug-adherence system for people with mental illness. When implemented, the system will help caseworkers monitor the physical and mental conditions of their clients.

Research continually documents the cycle of overworked, overstressed and burned-out clinicians who are unable to monitor all their clients for adherence to treatment protocols. A typical caseworker in a mental health/ mental retardation clinic may be assigned to manage 350 clients and expected to personally visit them every 90 days. These clients’ needs are usually complex and can spiral out of control at any moment. For example, a client may stop taking prescribed medications and begin to behave in an irrational, agitated or suicidal manner.

Budget restrictions often limit personnel increases, so human service agencies are looking for solutions in technology. Significant advances in hardware, connectivity and telecommunications can provide a low-cost solution to assisting with some of the major problems that agencies face.

The proposed “Teleherence” project created by Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) Professors Gergely Zaruba, Manfred Huber and Farhad Kamangar, CSE Senior Lecturer David Levine, and School of Social Work Professor Dick Schoech will apply Internet, telephone and prediction technologies to the problem of adherence to treatment of clients served by Mental Health/Mental Retardation of Tarrant County (MH/MRTC). Clinicians there will be able to interact with clients by automatically delivering reminders and short surveys via cell phones, normal phone lines and a web site. Software will chart the responses of clients and caregivers and use predictive techniques to provide suggestions for increasing client adherence to in-home treatment and clinic services.

In the Teleherence project, UT Arlington researchers and MH/MRTC personnel will initially evaluate three outcomes: increased adherence to treatment and services in 18 MHMR client subgroups (about 868 clients) compared to a control group; increased involvement of significant others (family, friends) in 18 MHMR client subgroups (approximately 75 clients) as compared to a control group; and increased client empowerment, self-efficacy and clinician-client relationships in 868 clients as measured by standardized scales developed by project staff and MH/MRTC advocacy groups.