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National Study to Use Telehealth for Talk Therapy for CF Patients

Led by researchers at Drexel University, a national study will evaluate whether talk therapy delivered via telehealth can help people living with cystic fibrosis who struggle with anxiety and depression.

September 06, 2019 - Researchers at several health systems are studying whether talk therapy delivered by telemedicine can alleviate anxiety and depression in people living with cystic fibrosis and thus improve care management and clinical outcomes.

The project is being spearheaded by C. Virginia O’Hayer, PhD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Philadelphia-based Drexel University’s College of Medicine, and follows a three-year pilot conducted by O’Hayer in which telehealth reduced anxiety and depression and helped some CF patients improve lung function.

People living with CF, who number about 300,000 in the US, are two to three times more likely to deal with mental health issues because of the severity of their condition, which comes with an average life expectancy of 44 years and requires extensive treatment. Researchers are hoping that a treatment plan that integrates counseling can not only improve a patient’s mental health, but also boost one’s physical health.

The program will use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a type of talk therapy, delivered through a virtual care connection.

“ACT is a novel, interactive, and experiential treatment, different from other talk therapies,” O’Hayer said in a press release. “Now that we know, from our pilot study, that ACT can help people with CF better cope with mental health concerns, we need to figure out if ACT works better than ‘just talking with someone.’”

O’Hayer will be working with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, the Duke University Medical Center and Augusta University in Georgia, among others. The project is funded in part by a donation of almost $1 million from the Boomer Esiason Foundation, founded by the former NFL quarterback and TV commentator whose son, Gunnar, lives with the disease.

“Mental health has been overlooked for far too long in cystic fibrosis, and though it is now widely understood that mental health issues are prevalent in the CF community, the Boomer Esiason Foundation is proud to be supporting an intervention that will directly support patients and families experiencing such issues,” Gunnar Esiason, who now serves as the foundation’s director of patient outreach, said in the release.

In the pilot program, 30 patients underwent a series of 50-minute ACT sessions, either in person or through a connected health platform. Twenty-four chose telehealth, in part because it reduced the chances of contracting an infection during a clinic visit. O’Hayer reported that the video platform was as effective as in-person treatment.

The larger study will compare telehealth against traditional treatment and measure levels of anxiety and depressions, as well as medication adherence and other biomarkers.

“By expanding our treatment to a more diverse patient population and including a treatment as usual control condition, we aim to address why ACT improves lung function – and to further help CF patients optimize their mental and physical health,” O’Hayer said.

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