JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington - Helping patients to beat their battles with tobacco and to improve their depression, anxiety and stress, earned Col. Douglas Maurer the title of Innovator of the Year.

Health Innovation NW, a Puget Sound-area organization, recognized Maurer for his partnerships with health innovation companies to research health apps which will help patients get better in their time outside of doctors' offices. Maurer is the program director of Madigan Army Medical Center's Faculty Development Fellowship and is a family medicine physician.

Pairing with an experienced researcher at a large hospital like Madigan allows these apps the chance to be validated by research and potentially later used by the medical community.

"We have a lot of innovation going on in small startups and small groups… and then there's kind of this big gap between that and getting it into practice. We need people in larger organizations to be innovative, do the extra work and take the extra risk to try to do things better," said Chief Operations Officer of 2Morrow Inc. Jo Masterson, who nominated Maurer for this award. "This is something that he doesn't have to do; it's something that he's passionate about to bring technology to patients to help them."

In fact, Maurer has been working with medical apps for years, reviewing them and encouraging patients to use them.

"Everyone's got a phone… so why not give them an app that can help treat their medical condition?" said Maurer, who prescribes apps for concerns like weight loss, increased fitness and depression.

He's currently helping to research two health apps. One, "SmartQuit" with 2morrow Inc., encourages patients to quit smoking by asking them to record their tobacco cravings, to include when they have them and how they overcome them; it also includes support on demand via text or phone calls.

According to Masterson, most people just take medications to help them quit tobacco but it's hard to get them to also do therapy.

"When you're trying to quit smoking, you get embarrassed and ashamed that you can't do this on your own," she said. However, combining both medications and behavioral therapy can increase patients' chances of successfully quitting; putting those therapy tools in an app may just increase the chance that patients will use them.

The second app Maurer is currently researching with the company Litesprite essentially offers patients with mental health homework for depression, anxiety and stress. The app "SinaSprite" offers mental health assistance with the touch of a phone, and also helps patients with meditation, deep breathing exercises and emotional support.

Maurer's work with these health innovation companies led to a Systems for Health award from the U.S. Medical Command, a monetary award which Madigan was able to use for a contract to further develop the mental health app.

Anyone who is eligible for care at Madigan can join the studies for the tobacco cessation and mental health apps, Maurer said.

While he is looking at next partnering to research a resiliency app, Maurer sees the possibilities for a wide variety of apps used regularly by patients for all areas of their health.

"Many, many different medical conditions potentially could be aided by the usage of apps that could be used in between visits, that could send provider data, or that patients could open the app and show the providers information and potentially better decisions and patient outcomes could come from that," Maurer said.

He envisions a future in which apps are used by medical providers as well.

"I think for providers apps can provide tools that you can use at the point of care to make the best medical decisions based on the best current evidence," said Maurer. "They're just abundant resources; you now have essentially everything you every wanted to know about medicine in the literal palm of your hand."