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Recovery Home Tests Rewards as Inducement to Participation

May 03, 2019

For many young-adult residents in Indiana's oldest recovery home, a smartphone long ago became affixed to them at nearly all times. The staff at Indianapolis-based Progress House is capitalizing on this in order to stay better connected to residents and to offer them additional tools and incentives for their recovery.

Twenty-five residents at the 148-bed facility are voluntarily participating in a pilot in which they are using an app developed by WEconnect Health Management to help manage their daily recovery activities. There are countless recovery-oriented apps in the marketplace, but one distinguishing factor of WEconnect's is its use of modest “contingency management” rewards to encourage resident engagement, participation in therapeutic and recovery support activities, and self-care.

“The rewards aren't substantial out of the gate, but they're frequent enough to get people's attention,” Progress House CEO Darrell Mitchell tells Addiction Professional.

WEconnect CEO Daniela Tudor explains that the rewards that are used for the app are delivered in the form of Amazon gift cards in $5 increments, though she tells Addiction Professional that her company likely will expand the rewards in the future to include items such as ridesharing assistance (helpful for individuals who need transportation to 12-Step meetings and other recovery support activities).

Tudor says that as the WEconnect platform was being developed, the company looked at around 30 studies citing the benefits of contingency management approaches. “We leverage it on the positive reinforcement side,” she says.

Progress House's growth

Progress House was founded in 1961, but up until the past year did not offer any clinical services as part of its recovery housing support. It now operates as a clinical Level 4 facility under the four-level structure articulated by the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR). Mitchell is a member of the NARR board of directors.

“Even with the number of staff we now have, we were asking, 'How can we get more real-time information on our residents?'” Mitchell says. He researched various possibilities and ended up reaching out to WEconnect.

The residents who are piloting use of the app at Progress House had the app downloaded to their personal cellphones. Staff are able to monitor residents' activity and can intervene if a client appears to be struggling in areas such as attending 12-Step meetings or engaging in self-care activities such as meditation and writing (residents report their self-care pursuits on the honor system).

The pilot effort also is allowing facility staff to study participants' digital footprint, to help guide them away from online pursuits that could hamper their recovery, Mitchell says.

At any point in time, somewhere around half of Progress House's residents have been referred from the corrections system, so the modest rewards that are attached to the technology can make a difference in helping to meet basic needs. “I'm not sure this would work in a Malibu center,” Mitchell says.

Technology company's history

WEconnect was founded more than four years ago and has raised more than $7 million in private financing, Tudor says. The company works with both health provider organizations and health plans.

“When I went through my own recovery journey, having a background in technology, I had the hypothesis that rewards could reinforce people's experiences with a digital platform,” she says.

Tudor adds that in the substance use recovery space, rewards can be particularly meaningful in the first few months of treatment when risk of a lapse is greatest. “They are more front-loaded,” she says of the inducements. “As people get more involved in their recovery program, the intrinsic value of participating in that program will become more evident,” making positive reinforcement from outside sources somewhat less important.

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