This month, we spoke with Bonnie Smith, a grant evaluator located in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and CEO of B. Weyland Smith Consulting. Bonnie shares her data-driven perspectives about the value of digital health to elevate treatment programs.

By: Michelle Voegtle, M.Ed., LPC, and Director of Clinical Programs at TryCycle Data Systems Inc.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how that relates to your work as a grant evaluator?
I started on the graduate level in public health, wanting to incorporate that with social work. I was interested in how community and individual health are connected to mental health. At that time, the integration of those two master’s programs wasn’t seamless so I went into public health prevention primarily. Public health work led me to primary prevention around substance use where I got to work with a lot of communities using data.

I understand you did some work with Hartford Healthcare and the TetherAll program. What was your role?
My role was the evaluator for a SAMHSA grant that supported TetherAll as well as Peer Recovery Support around opiate use and recovery. In that role, I got to use data from Hartford Healthcare, TetherAll, and some other instruments to measure the goals of the grant and outcomes. This opportunity allowed me to use qualitative and quantitative data to see early outcomes of the benefits of how Peer Recovery Support, in tandem with TetherAll, benefited clients’ recovery journey.

What did you learn from your experience on the TetherAll project at Hartford Healthcare?
It was my first introduction to a product like TetherAll. I learned how expansive the opportunity is for individuals in various mental health and substance use stages, as well as various needs, to have access to an App like that. Over time, TetherAll morphed from a very specific substance use module only, to including mental and co-occurring modules.

I was excited to work with something new with expansive potential. There hasn’t been much new in the field and the novelty is nice. There is more data to come regarding the effectiveness, but just the novelty alone is relevant. For certain people, knowing they don’t have to go into a 12-step group or a zoom room and feel really uncomfortable could be key to their recovery. TetherAll is a great supplement to their treatment.

I imagine you work with many agencies and institutions. You have a lens that few have the privilege of experiencing. How can those in the recovery field learn from your broad experience and knowledge?
I get to experience rare opportunities where “my hands are in” a broad perspective. I am often on the ground floor when agencies and organizations are building programs. I can let people know about new and promising programs. I have no problem sharing with my clients about programs like TetherAll. This appeals to grant funders because the program is new and innovative, and the data looks promising.

People are often intimidated by new technology. From the data I collected, I would want people to know that bringing in TetherAll to support an existing program, elevate a program, or create a new program, is not stressful or difficult. I think the best data comes directly from client feedback. It’s simple to use and is making a difference.

Is there anything you learned about the onboarding process that led to more successful outcomes?
Through staff interviews and data related to the project, I learned that the approach to implementation matters. How staff present TetherAll to the client, engage them, and connect them back to the App, is key. Clinicians who presented the App as an opportunity, rather than a task, found a stronger correlation with client engagement. The client’s perceptions, and how clients feel about the App as it relates to their program of recovery, are important.

Where do you see opportunities for digital technology in recovery moving forward?
I really like that digital technology for clients in recovery is very discreet. I can see how this applies to people whose families may not be as supportive of them engaging in treatment. Clients don’t always need to talk to someone face to face, they can talk to and connect with someone from their health team via the App. I feel that teens are a real opportunity, as well as gambling, eating disorders, and self-harm.

I would love for TetherAll to be accessible to those who run private practices or run small-scale clinical treatment out of town or in the city they represent. They are not big treatment organizations, but maybe there’s an opportunity for them to connect with larger agencies. There is so much potential.