Online MS ‘Toolkit’ Created by University Psychologist to Help in Managing Pain and Fatigue

Online MS ‘Toolkit’ Created by University Psychologist to Help in Managing Pain and Fatigue

Researchers at the University of Michigan developed an online tool to help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) manage some of the more life-affecting symptoms of their disease.

Called My MSToolkit, the tool is a free and web-based, self-guided program based on behavioral healthcare. It’s designed to help in managing such symptoms as pain, fatigue, and depression or mood swings, and to assist people in finding ways to minimize their impact on quality of life.

Anna Kratz, PhD, an associate professor of physical medicine and a rehabilitation and research psychologist at Michigan Medicine, and colleagues developed My MSToolkit.

“There are many barriers to receiving behavioral healthcare … These include financial barriers, such as cost of treatment or transportation, difficulty in finding time to make it to therapy appointments, and challenges finding a mental health professional who delivers evidence-based treatment and understands the nuances of your particular condition,” Kratz said in a university news story.

“The team of psychologists who developed this website took the information, support, and skill practice that we would deliver in a therapy session … and put it on the web, as to decrease the barriers MS patients may have to getting behavioral healthcare,” added Kratz, who is also a member of the university’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

My MSToolkit is said to include several exclusive features to help ensure that those using it get the best possible behavioral healthcare necessary to better cope with these symptoms.

One of its advantages is that the program can be easily accessed anywhere, and is considered easy to use. My MSToolkit is based on nine different modules that are organized in a specific order. Each module, or step, contains a series of videos, audio recordings, and worksheets to facilitate patients’ engagement with the program.

“We created short videos of our development team of psychologists describing some of the more complex concepts of the program,” Kratz said. “With the hope that hearing a person describing these ideas in plain language would help the user understand the concepts and give a human face to the program.”

Another important feature, Kratz said, is that the toolkit is based on cognitive behavioral therapy, the current gold-standard of treatment in psychology.

“Cognitive behavioral therapy is a treatment that helps people understand how their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all related to their experience of symptoms or poor day-to-day functioning,” she said. “It helps people develop new ways of thinking and behaving in order to decrease suffering and increase participation in life.”

The program is fully compatible with other types of therapies that patients may be using to help them deal with chronic pain, fatigue, or depression.

Kratz also mentioned the website was created based on feedback from four stakeholders with MS, who “provided crucial information on how to design the site, and what information would be most helpful for people with MS.”

Finally, she noted that My MSToolkit can be used by anyone with MS, and is not exclusive to those currently being treated at Michigan Medicine. Although the website was created initially to support people with MS, Kratz said the program may also be an invaluable resource for their family members and friends.

“MS affects the whole support network, not just the person with the diagnosis. We have built in content for the friends and family of people with MS, so they can feel supported themselves and know how to support their loved one with MS,” Kratz said.

Kratz and her colleagues plan to continue to work on My MSToolkit to improve its functionality. They are also planning to create a mobile app, and to add new features and content to the program.

Joana is currently completing her PhD in Biomedicine and Clinical Research at Universidade de Lisboa. She also holds a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology from Universidade de Lisboa. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that make up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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Patrícia holds her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, The Netherlands. She has studied Applied Biology at Universidade do Minho and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work has been focused on molecular genetic traits of infectious agents such as viruses and parasites.
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Joana is currently completing her PhD in Biomedicine and Clinical Research at Universidade de Lisboa. She also holds a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology from Universidade de Lisboa. Her work has been focused on the impact of non-canonical Wnt signaling in the collective behavior of endothelial cells — cells that make up the lining of blood vessels — found in the umbilical cord of newborns.
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