In the VA Family Psycho-Educational (FPE) is a component of the Uniform Services standard for care of Veterans with schizophrenia and their family members. FPE includes single family variants, e.g., Behavioral Family Therapy, which is provided to individual families (consumer and family members); and multi-family variants, e.g., Multi-Family Group Psycho-Education (MFG-stands for 'Multi-Family Group'), which is provided to multiple families (consumers and family members together) in a single treatment group. To promote the availability of FPE to all Veterans who could benefit, the VA began national trainings of clinicians in FPE. Despite this training, the proven effectiveness of FPE, and that it is the standard for care, it is not widely available to Veterans, is underutilized even where available, and can incur relatively high resistance from Veterans and families. Less than 5% of VA Medical Centers provide FPE. Further, even where it is available, it reaches a relatively small proportion of Veterans who could benefit. Barriers to receiving this treatment include the lack of appropriately trained clinicians, the need for Veterans and family members to travel to receive these services--this maybe a particularly important hurdle for a treatment that meets bi- weekly for a minimum of nine months--the tendency to avoid in-person treatment due to the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, and the difficulty of providing treatments after hours or on weekends when families are more likely be able to attend. It is important for the VA to have treatment delivery models that maximize the likelihood that all Veterans in need will receive interventions such as FPE, including Veterans residing in rural settings, and Veterans who avoid VA settings due to stigma. E-health delivery of services has been a focus of the VA as a way to overcome these barriers. Specialized web-based approaches have been studied and found to be successful for people with schizophrenia, and their families, and can deliver content that is intensive and engaging with reduced requirements for staff time. Our previous work has developed a model and guidelines to design e-health applications for persons with schizophrenia and others with cognitive impairments (e.g., Rotondi, VA RR&D D61804R), and developed a highly scalable intervention termed Schizophrenia On-line Access to Resources (SOAR) (Rotondi, R01 MH63484). SOAR incorporated FPE into a modernized model that: incorporates web-based delivery; provides the ability of users to individualize commitment and services to meet varied preferences and needs, in order to address prominent reasons for resistance to FPE; and is accessible from homes and smart phones. SOAR is highly successful at reducing illness symptoms for persons with schizophrenia and improving their and their family members' knowledge of the illness.
The aims of this study are to conduct: 1) a 2-arm non-inferiority randomized comparative effectiveness trial of SOAR vs. in-person MFG; 2) exploratory secondary analyses to identify Veteran and family characteristics that are associated with decreased levels of psychiatric symptoms and caregiver burden; 3) exploratory qualitative analyses to inform a larger implementation of SOAR by identifying barriers, facilitators, VA system requirements, etc. from clinicians providing the treatments, their supervisors, and participants. If successful, SOAR could substantially increase the options, availability, utilization, appeal, and effectiveness of FPE for Veterans and their families, thereb improving Veteran well-being, recovery, and Veteran and family quality of life.

Public Health Relevance

As specified in the VA Uniform Services Handbook, Family Psycho-Education (FPE) treatment must be available to all Veterans with schizophrenia who could benefit, and their family members. This includes those receiving care at Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), and at Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Centers (PRRCs), whether provided on site, by referral, or by telemental health. However, less than 5% of VA medical centers offer FPE. Clearly, a major challenge is to devise ways to deliver mental health treatments and services to Veterans who need them in ways that meet their needs and preferences. The proposed project could have profound implications for the VA's ability to improve the reach, use, appeal, and effectiveness of FPE for Veterans with schizophrenia, by using an e-health model that facilitates family involvement.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
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HSR-7 Service Directed Research (HSR7)
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Veterans Health Administration
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