Local Researcher Works to Make OCD Treatment More Accessible

Nov 23, 2016

There are a variety of treatments for people who suffer from the brain disorder known as OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  Treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy have been effective in helping many patients who deal with the disorder, which can cause severe and often crippling anxiety.

However one of the shortcomings to the treatments that exist is that they rely on a patient’s ability to have access to a mental health provider, which isn’t always easy.  But a research study being carried out by an area hospital seeks to reduce or eliminate that barrier. 

Doctor Brad Riemann is the clinical director of the OCD Center and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy services at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, and leads the effort to test an app designed to help patients treat their OCD. 

"No matter how effective a treatment is, compliance with that treatment is going to be the key," he explains. "So making it more user-friendly is just going to increase compliance."

According to Riemann, previous research shows that patients with OCD or similar anxiety disorders have a radar, or "attention bias" that looks out for threat cues that can cause anxiety. He notes a common example of OCD is the fear of germs or contamination, thus causing a person to be on constant alert for other people who may be sick, or surfaces that present a risk.

The application developed targets this attention bias to "shut the radar down" through cognitive behavioral therapy and response prevention to reduce OCD symptoms. The program presents individualized word lists that contain terms found to be scary or anxiety producing along with neutral words to offset a potentially stressful reaction according to Riemann.

"We're redirecting this person's attention away from those scary words on to the neutral words, and believe it or not, in about 15 published studies we have found this to be very effective in reducing the symptoms of OCD and anxiety," he says.

Riemann notes that while treatment for anxiety disorders using modern technology has been developed for over two decades, it has not been widely accessible outside of treatment facilities.

"We have published multiple studies that have found the desktop-sized version to be effective, but its never gone from the lab to the sufferer," he explains. "So part of this is not only trying to shrink it and put it on an app to make it more accessible, but then also trying to do something about getting it into the public's hands."

The most recent results of the research study show that participants who use the app for over a month on average pay less attention to cues spontaneously occurring throughout their day, and their OCD and anxiety symptoms are lessened. Reimann says that with the added convenience and low cost of an app, people are more likely to consistently utilize this form of treatment and in turn, improve their daily lives with fewer symptoms.

"Clearly, for some anxious people this is going to be less anxiety producing, which hopefully would increase their compliance," he says. "But also with the app, people could do it at the convenience of their schedule."

If you are interested in participating in this research study, you can contact Rogers Memorial Hospital at (414) 865-2600, or researchstudies@rogershospital.org.