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USF professor creates a simple, secure platform to help therapists engage clients

Mark Parker

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Dr. Brian Bunnell, Director of the Innovation in Mental Health (iMH) Lab at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine, created Adhere.ly to help therapists engage with their patients. Photo courtesy of usf.health.edu.

After years of finding it difficult to engage clients and patients between therapy sessions, one University of South Florida professor decided to create a platform to help alleviate those concerns.

Dr. Brian Bunnell, Director of the Innovation in Mental Health (iMH) Lab at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine, has long found it difficult to ensure that clients engage in practices vital to their treatment outside of the clinic. He realized that many other healthcare providers were having the same difficulties and began conducting research to identify barriers that keep patients from developing and practicing those skills between therapy sessions.

Bunnell concluded that clients were simply forgetting crucial information.

“When it came down to it … they really just forget,” said Bunnell. “Most of the time, they forget when, where and why they should be practicing these sessions.”

So, Bunnell began to work with the therapist community to devise a simple and secure platform that health care providers can use to send automated text messages or email reminders to patients in between sessions. Bunnell then enlisted the help of Brandon Welch and Dylan Turner, co-founders of the telehealth platform Doxy.me. A series of grants provided the team with funding, and together they launched Adhere.ly in late 2019.

Through Adhere.ly – which is HIPAA compliant – providers can securely send reminders for patients to attend appointments, take medication at specific times, practice relaxation techniques and self-monitor. Providers can also schedule words of praise, encouragement and support to be sent on random days to provide an emotional boost. Users simply click a link and are taken to a secure browser to complete the exercises or read the notes.

“Then you close out the browser, and you’re all done,” said Bunnell. “They don’t have to download; they don’t have to log in or anything like that.”

Providers can then follow up on the results at the next scheduled meeting. Bunnell said he is currently evaluating the trials and that all of his research is conducted through USF’s Innovation in Mental Health Lab.

Dr. Bunnell, co-founder of Adhere.ly. Photo courtesy of Brian Bunnell.

Bunnell has known Welch for years since their days of working together in South Carolina. The two remained friends and colleagues through telemedicine and health technology networks.

“We started to publish together and really expanding my vision for more of a product,” said Bunnell.

Welch introduced Bunnell to Turner, the other half of Doxy.me, and the team began work on the security of the Adhere.ly platform. Having an institutional academic partner in USF has aided in the development and research of the product, and has also provided an avenue to receive more funding.

Bunnell said a recent grant from the Florida High Tech Corridor is exclusively going toward securely integrating the Doxy.me user interface with Adhere.ly. He added the ultimate goal is commercialization, although no specific date has been set for when that will occur.

“Our main goal right now is to get therapy providers using the platform,” said Bunnell. “And as we add additional features that are of value to therapists, they will pay more because of that added value to them.”

Bunnell clarifies that the platform will always be free, with the exception of paid upgrades as the team develops additional features.

“I think probably in the next year or two we will begin to work on commercialization.”

Bunnell said there are currently around 100 providers that use the platform monthly, which he calls encouraging. It is also somewhat surprising, as the platform is not yet advertised to the public.

“The great thing about that is this is not something we’ve marketed at all,” said Bunnell. “So, I’m not exactly sure where all our users came from.”

The site is currently geared toward mental health caregivers that treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Bunnell said they are expanding features and exercises focused on adults with general anxiety and depression, which tend to be the most common disorders that therapists are addressing in the community.

Bunnell is in the process of hiring student assistants to work on the project and is actively recruiting therapists to participate in clinical trials. He said they will continue to generate new ideas and integrate the platform’s interface to provide the most value for both providers and patients. Bunnell hopes to have a minimally viable product integration between Adhere.ly and Doxy.me in the spring of 2022.

“The ultimate goal of this platform is to provide therapists with something that makes their job easier,” said Bunnell. “And to help them better engage their clients to improve their treatment outcomes.”

To learn more about Adhere.ly, visit its website here.

To learn more about Doxy.me, visit its website here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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