Risks and challenges
Building an app that connects Veterans and service members in a time of crisis comes with many rewards. However, given the sensitivity of the issue, it also comes with some risks. We've worked with our legal counsel, design and development team, and professionals in the mental health field to address these challenges head-on. In the spirit of transparency, and to show you our attention to detail, we've outlined a few major challenges and what we've done, or plan to do, to overcome them.
Veterans and current service members often don't seek treatment or help for PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, or suicidal ideations because they fear doing so will harm their career and reputation. And, unfortunately, it often does.
Recognizing this, users can remain anonymous in the Objective Zero community if they choose to do so. We can do this using an application program interface (API) from Twilio to mask (hide) numbers and other contact information.
Medical Licensure Across State Lines
Some of Objective Zero's ambassadors are licensed health professionals from across the country. However, most licenses only qualify the holder to practice in the state in which they are licensed (or in states with reciprocity agreements). This could become a sticky situation if, say, an ambassador who is only licensed in California receives an invitation to connect to a user in New York City, where he or she is not licensed.
Following consultation with our legal counsel, we designed the Objective Zero platform to only connect licensed practitioners to users in the state(s) in which they are licensed to practice. Looking to the future, we are working with our general counsel to lobby for a licensure exemption for Veterans and current military service members. Because there isn't a lot of case law on the topic, we are on the cutting edge of pushing for greater access to virtual care across state boundaries.
We often get asked what happens if a user's call, text, or video chat is left unanswered. Is it like Uber, where you're left out on the street (literally) if no one answer the call? Recognizing this risk, especially in the first several months when demand may exceed the organic Objective Zero Ambassador Network, we've done two things.
First, we've established strategic partnerships with other nonprofits with extensive volunteer networks committed to the same mission as us: eliminating veteran and military suicides. We're tapping into these organizations' already established networks to boost the number of ambassadors. Secondly, we built a feature into the app that automatically connects the user to the VA's suicide crisis hotline if an ambassador doesn't answer the call.
One of the most significant challenges we face is getting people to download the app when they aren't in a moment of crisis, so that they have access to it when they are in crisis mode.
We plan to overcome this hurdle by incorporating features that are attractive to all veterans and current service members, not just those under mental stress. By signing up for Objective Zero, users get free or discounted access to popular mediation and workout apps and websites, as well as discounts for other activities.
Users can also join groups based on unit affiliation, campaign, military occupational specialty, and more to connect to those with whom they served. Lastly, we're in contact with VA and Department of Defense officials and other health care administrators to incorporate Objective Zero into patients' ongoing care plans.
Cross-Platform and Device Functionality
Unfortunately, many veterans who need help the most don't have access to a smartphone or a computer. Even worse, many live in rural communities with poor or no cellular service or digital networks. So, how do we connect to these veterans?
Recognizing the user experience will be completely different on an analog phone or a digital non-smartphone, we've created a 1-800 number that connects to our ambassador network. I know what you're thinking, isn't this the same as the VA suicide crisis hotline? The answer is no. Through our platform, ambassadors can conduct 'buddy checks' on users without smartphones, adding the community component traditional call centers lack.
Additionally, we're working on a technology that will let users on an analog phone select their Ambassador preferences (branch of service, campaign, MOS, etc.) by dialing numbers (e.g., press 1 if you wish to connect with an 11B (Infantry) MOS ambassador).
Lastly, we're in contact with a major cell network provider to get second-hand and donated smartphones into the hands of more veterans, so that they can get full access to Objective Zero.
Given the sensitivity of Objective Zero's purpose and the data it collects, security is a big concern. Users need to feel confident that their information will not be compromised, and so do we. After all, medically-sensitive data, though informally collected on a mobile app, may fall under the purview of HIPPA regulations. If Objective Zero were found to have leaked this information, we would be in hot water.
After conferring with our general legal counsel and database engineers, we took several steps to protect our user data. The first is we created a comprehensive privacy disclosure, notifying users of their rights. Second we’re using databases and servers that exceed all federal and industry data security standards for medical databases.
If you've ever created a mobile app, you know that it can be difficult to deliver on-time and on-budget. After analyzing our development timeline, we see two major friction points at which there could be delays.
The first potential delay could occur during the beta phase, in March 2017. While we will be following LEAN and AGILE product development methodologies, and thus testing during the entire development process, the app will undergo a rigorous beta test where you, or those of you who pledge at designated levels, will have a chance to use the app and try to break it before we release it to the broader public. If we find any major problems with the code or platform at this time, it could delay the launch date by one to two weeks, depending on the extent of the fix.
The second is getting the app approved in the Apple App Store. If you're a developer, you know getting an app approved in the App store comes with its own set of challenges and tends to be more difficult than the Google Play Store on Android. So, while the average approval time for the Apple App Store is six days, it could be longer (up to about two weeks).
Throughout the development process, we plan to send regular email updates to those who pledged, highlighting key milestones and any potential delays.
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