New app helps recovering addicts track withdrawal symptoms and get help fast

A made-in-Waterloo app is helping addiction workers in Guelph better support people going through withdrawal and battling addiction.

App credited with success of community withdrawal program in Guelph

The success of the new community withdrawal program is tied closely to the use of an app, designed by Preemptive, according to Stonehenge executive director Heather Kerr. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

A made-in-Waterloo app is helping addiction workers in Guelph better support people going through withdrawal and battling addiction.

Preemptive is an app that lets people using a community withdrawal program fill out a symptom checklist once a day, which gives their social worker a quick update on their condition. 

The app provides instant feedback to clients, letting them know whether their symptoms are normal, require a call to a social worker or require a visit to emergency.

Social workers at Stonehenge Therapeutic Community have been testing the Preemptive app since May 2017 and executive director Heather Kerr says the feedback has been very positive. 

"We download a whole bunch of apps every day and never think twice about it," Kerr told CBC News. "We're quite excited and shocked about how ... such a small app can do so much and really change our experience of providing care." 

Supports new withdrawal program

The app is given to clients of the organization's new community withdrawal program, which supports individuals who are going through the withdrawal process while living in the community, rather than while in hospital. 

We thought, 'How are we possibly going to do this?' There was a significant capacity issue.- Heather Kerr, Stonehenge Therapeutic Community

Kerr said individuals going through withdrawal often feel "very, very sick," like they have "the worst flu that you think that you've ever had."

If the individual has other health issues or chronic illnesses, the withdrawal symptoms can become dangerous, so they have to be monitored closely. 

Capacity issue

When the community withdrawal program began, Stonehenge only had money to hire three workers who were expected to monitor the condition of clients living in Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. 

"We had a bit of a dilemma," Kerr said. "We thought, 'How are we possibly going to do this?' There was a significant capacity issue."

That's when she met Joseph Puopolo, CEO of Preemptive, who suggested adapting his company's app to serve the program's needs.
Joseph Puopolo says he's never worked with a health care organization before, but always saw opportunities to apply technology in the field. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

"I actually have not worked with a health care organization before this," Puopolo said. "But I always thought there was huge opportunities to apply technology to help people in the health care space."

Although Kerr said she wasn't completely sure that Puopolo's idea would work, she decided to give it a try. She said the app has helped make the community withdrawal program a success.

Breaking down barriers

Besides being an efficient way to cover a large service area, Kerr says the app is breaking down some of the barriers and stigma faced by clients. 

"Folks can get immediate feedback on the symptoms they're having and adjust their behaviour or ask for support," she said. 

"They're not having to share that [information] with a person every day. They're able to do it in a way that feels most comfortable to them."

If a client doesn't fill out the checklist, Kerr said it's a red flag to Stonehenge — a sign to the social worker to check in with that client right away.

Now that the app has been tested at Stonehenge, Preemptive plans to promote its app for use at other health care organizations.