The SmartCAT: an m-health platform for ecological momentary intervention in child anxiety treatment

Telemed J E Health. 2014 May;20(5):419-27. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2013.0214. Epub 2014 Feb 28.


Introduction: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for child anxiety, although efficacious, typically requires 16-20 weekly sessions with a therapist. Brief CBT (BCBT; eight sessions) for child anxiety is promising but may have less favorable outcomes owing to reduced session time. Mobile health (m-health) has the potential to improve BCBT efficacy by delivering ecological momentary intervention to engage youth in learning and practicing CBT skills in their everyday lives (in vivo).

Materials and methods: We developed an m-health platform entitled SmartCAT (Smartphone-enhanced Child Anxiety Treatment). SmartCAT consists of (1) a smartphone application (app) that cues youth to use the CBT skills taught in sessions, (2) an online portal that allows therapists to monitor skill use, to send cues and treatment-related materials, to engage youth in real-time via secure messages, and to manage rewards, and (3) a communication protocol that allows real-time bidirectional exchange between the app and the portal. A pilot study with nine youth (9-14 years old) examined the platform's feasibility as an adjunct to BCBT.

Results: SmartCAT was found to be capable of supporting BCBT for child anxiety and received positive feedback from both therapists and youth patients. Patients rated the app as highly usable (mean=1.7 on a 1-7 scale, with 1="easy"). Patients completed 5.36 skills coach entries per session (standard deviation=1.95) and took an average of 3.14 min (standard deviation=0.98 min) to complete the entries.

Conclusions: A smartphone app is feasible within CBT for child anxiety. Users found SmartCAT both acceptable and easy to use. Integrating an m-health platform within BCBT for anxious children may facilitate involvement in treatment and dissemination of effective procedures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Cell Phone / instrumentation*
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data
  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Patient Participation
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prognosis
  • Telecommunications
  • Telemedicine / instrumentation*
  • Telemedicine / methods
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States