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Eating disorders can affect almost anyone, and the numbers show that they do. At some point in their lives, 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

But for those with eating disorders and for those helping them, knowing what causes these mental and physical illnesses and how to treat them can be difficult.

Researchers at the University of Kansas are working on a smartphone app for clinical use to improve eating disorder treatment outcomes for patients.

SEE: 'My Possible Self' mental health app helps users understand anxiety by looking for patterns and triggers

Despite the availability of quality treatment, there's a chance that a person suffering from an eating disorder won't respond to them, according to Kelsey Forbush, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas. Forbush is leading the development of the app, according to the research team.

"Researchers and clinicians have put a lot of time and energy into developing new treatments for eating disorders, but the majority of these new treatments have not improved outcomes," Forbush said.

Instead of trying to develop new treatments, Forbush said the app will take a new direction with "patient-focused treatment outcomes."

Patients who use the app will self-report through an Eating Pathology Symptoms Inventory and an Inventory of Depression and Anxiety. Clinicians can track and assess the responses with computer-adaptive technology (CAT). CAT uses the patient's answers to determine which question to ask next, tuning the self-reporting process to be as effective as possible.

"The client will use a smartphone or tablet," Forbush said. "A client will answer questions and their data will be visible to clinicians on a user-friendly, web-based platform. Clinicians will also get easy-to-interpret 'signal warnings' to let them know if their patient is on track, if they need to adjust or intensify their treatment, or if their patient is in danger of a poor outcome. Our app is designed so that clinicians won't have to worry about interpretation, they'll get feedback on their patients' outcome without having to analyze the results themselves."

Forbush said that monitoring patient outcomes weekly increases positive treatment outcomes by 20 percent and reduces poor outcomes by 10 percent.

"It's a potentially powerful way to help patients get better," Forbush said.

The app is currently in testing in various eating disorder treatment settings in Kansas, according to the press release. Download.com reached out to researchers at the university for comment and we'll update when we hear back.

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Takeaways

  1. Researchers at the University of Kansas are developing an app that will streamline communication between patients and clinicians to make treatments more effective.
  2. The app is still in testing in various eating disorder treatment settings in Kansas.

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Shelby is an Associate Writer for CNET's Download.com. She served as Editor in Chief for the Louisville Cardinal newspaper at the University of Louisville. She interned as Creative Non-Fiction Editor for Miracle Monocle literary magazine. Her work appears in Glass Mountain Magazine, Bookends Review, Soundings East, and on Louisville.com. Her cat, Puck, is the best cat ever.