The Use of Evaluation Panels During the Development of a Digital Intervention for Veterans Based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia: Qualitative Evaluation Study.

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Individuals enrolling in the Veterans Health Administration frequently report symptoms consistent with insomnia disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a gold standard treatment for insomnia disorder. While the Veterans Health Administration has successfully implemented a large dissemination effort to train providers in CBT-I, the limited number of trained CBT-I providers continues to restrict the number of individuals who can receive CBT-I. Digital mental health intervention adaptations of CBT-I have been found to have similar efficacy as traditional CBT-I. To help address the unmet need for insomnia disorder treatment, the VA commissioned the creation of a freely available, internet-delivered digital mental health intervention adaptation of CBT-I known as Path to Better Sleep (PTBS).


We aimed to describe the use of evaluation panels composed of veterans and spouses of veterans during the development of PTBS. Specifically, we report on the methods used to conduct the panels, the feedback they provided on elements of the course relevant to user engagement, and how their feedback influenced the design and content of PTBS.


A communications firm was contracted to recruit 3 veteran (n=27) and 2 spouse of veteran (n=18) panels and convene them for three 1-hour meetings. Members of the VA team identified key questions for the panels, and the communications firm prepared facilitator guides to elicit feedback on these key questions. The guides provided a script for facilitators to follow while convening the panels. The panels were telephonically conducted, with visual content displayed via remote presentation software. The communications firm prepared reports summarizing the panelists' feedback during each panel meeting. The qualitative feedback described in these reports served as the raw material for this study.


The panel members provided markedly consistent feedback on several elements of PTBS, including recommendations to emphasize the efficacy of CBT-I techniques; clarify and simplify written content as much as possible; and ensure that content is consistent with the lived experiences of veterans. Their feedback was congruent with previous studies on the factors influencing user engagement with digital mental health interventions. Panelist feedback influenced multiple course design decisions, including reducing the effort required to use the course's sleep diary function, making written content more concise, and selecting veteran testimonial videos that emphasized the benefits of treating chronic insomnia symptoms.


The veteran and spouse evaluation panels provided useful feedback during the design of PTBS. This feedback was used to make concrete revisions and design decisions consistent with existing research on improving user engagement with digital mental health interventions. We believe that many of the key feedback messages provided by these evaluation panels could prove useful to other digital mental health intervention designers.





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Ryan, Arthur Thomas, Lisa Anne Brenner, Christi S Ulmer, Margaret-Anne Mackintosh and Carolyn J Greene (2023). The Use of Evaluation Panels During the Development of a Digital Intervention for Veterans Based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia: Qualitative Evaluation Study. JMIR formative research, 7. p. e40104. 10.2196/40104 Retrieved from

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Christi S Ulmer

Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

I am an Associate Professor at Duke University School of Medicine and clinical research psychologist at the Durham VA Center of Innovation to Accelerate Discovery and Practice Transformation (ADAPT). My research is focused on increasing our understanding of the health correlates of sleep disorders, increasing patient access to behavioral sleep medicine, and developing and disseminating behaviorally-based treatments for sleep disorders. I am a Behavioral Sleep Medicine Diplomate who has been treating patients with sleep disturbances for the past 17 years. I serve as faculty on the Durham VA Health Psychology fellowship training program; the first accredited BSM training program in the VA healthcare system. I served as a VA Co-Chair for the development of VA/DOD Clinical Practice Guidelines for insomnia and sleep apnea, and served as a consultant on the VA Dissemination of training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia for more than 8 years. I am committed to expanding patient access to and provider knowledge of effective behavioral sleep medicine interventions, and increasing the recognition of sleep’s role in patient health.     

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