July 19, 2024
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Mental Health Goes Digital—and Everyone Benefits

West Orange native Stephanie Shapiro, as a graduate student in Wurzweiler School of Social Work, found information pertaining to the topic of mental health conditions vast and exhaustive. Having always been interested in human behavior, she enjoyed learning about all the different aspects of mental health, but found that there was no data-driven way to make a diagnosis. After asking her professors if there were any programs in existence that aggregate the data and make symptoms searchable, they jokingly challenged her to develop one herself.

Fast forward from Shapiro’s graduation in 2012 to present-day Wurzweiler, where they use an app called the Diagnostic and Symptom Calculator, or the DSC—developed by Shapiro herself—to do the very task she found lacking during her studies.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the gold standard for mental health diagnoses. At over 1,000 pages of material, it is both thorough and daunting. The DSC tool works the opposite way of the DSM. When a patient comes to a mental health professional, the professional must work with the symptoms mentioned by the patient to try and piece together the information presented in order to reach a diagnosis. With DSC, everything is in a database of symptoms and diagnoses. “The app works like a calculator. It replaces some of the human brain,” explains Shapiro. “Just like the calculator can tell you that one plus one equals two, this app can tell the doctor that Symptom A with Symptom B narrows down a diagnosis.”

All the features built into the DSC app are designed to help mental health professionals serve their clients as clearly and logically as possible. Shapiro describes some of the features in her app that those who use it have come to appreciate. According to Shapiro, the tool uses an algorithm based on symptoms and anecdotes. Accounting for any factor—including age, gender, presenting symptoms, severity and longevity—the DSC calculates possible matches and gives a diagnosis.

Another feature that has helped professionals is the ability to make a profile of a patient. Patient privacy and security is accounted for in the app as well, to ensure the anonymity of anyone whose data is entered. Within the profile, information can be built over time to help complete an evolving picture. Even appropriate insurance codes are accounted for in the app. “The DSC app requires professionals to cover all their markers when trying to diagnose,” explained Shapiro. Currently a PhD student, studying the efficacy of the electronic diagnostic tool, Shapiro talked about how in reviewing files she noticed errors or gaps that the DSC would have eliminated. As a therapist, it is always frustrating for Shapiro to see human error that could have been eliminated, especially if it potentially compromises the well-being of a client.

In addition to her doctoral studies, Shapiro works at the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities (J-ADD), and is currently completing her clinical hours for her LCSW at the Psychotherapy Center of New Jersey.

To stay current in the field of mental health, Shapiro employs an Apple developer to run updates to the app and maintain the website, www.dscapp.com. At $24.99, the mountain of information available through the DSC app is a bargain. For a one-time fee, all updates are included as well.

“This is definitely something that will help professionals,” exclaimed Shapiro. “Whether they are new to the field and use this as an aid, or are seasoned professionals who want to go back and review their work, everyone can benefit from it. Meaning patients benefit too.”

For more information, visit the DSC site online at www.dscapp.com. It is also available to download at this time, for Apple only.

By Jenny Gans

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