The Rise of Mental Health Apps

The Rise of Mental Health Apps

We all know there’s an app for that, and when it comes to health care, there isn’t just one app; there are more than 165,000 of them. Arguably the largest category of health care app is mental health. People use them to manage conditions like addiction, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Aside from visiting a reliable drug or meth abuse treatment facility, mental help apps had been a part of the healing for some addicts that are recovering.

However, though they are ubiquitous, there isn’t much scientific evidence that supports their use. Software designed to be used on a mobile device hasn’t been subjected to rigorous scientific review, so its efficacy remains in question. However, the fact that research literature has been wildly outpaced by the production of apps hasn’t undermined the degree of consumer and industry interest in creating and releasing more of them.

For example, in a recent literature review, a mere 14 apps for people with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder were examined, as well as only seven for people with psychosis. And these reviews revealed studies included little if any data about safety, efficacy, or clinical outcome. But, that has had no impact on the growing demand for the apps.
This issue is further complicated by the necessity for professional groups to determine how these apps should be used. The American Psychiatric Association, for instance, has to decide how psychiatric healthcare workers should utilize the apps. The Food and Drug Administration has already declared it won’t even begin tackling this gargantuan issue.

An article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry identified two options for providers to consider when they contemplate the use of apps and other consumer devices in clinical care. On one hand, they can reject apps and direct their patients not to use them because there simply isn’t much evidence that they work. Or, they can accept that apps are here to stay and patients are using them.
At this point, people are already brining activity monitoring devices (like Fitbits), sleep-tracking data, and apps to their doctors to ask for a professional’s perspective on how to make the most of them. It’s a lot like people brining information from WebMD or the Mayo Clinic’s website to their doctor.

The reality is that patients are already seeking out apps and using them, but they may not be pursuing the most effective uses or figuring out the best approaches to take. By speaking with doctors about the tools available to them, patients can make informed decisions about the tools they use to manage their mental health care. It’s best for doctors to accept the apps and engage with patients to put them to best use.

Psychiatric providers are advised to consider the ASPECTs of an app:

  • Actionable: Does the app collect relevant data that can be easily integrated with electronic health records?
  • Secure: Does the app follow HIPAA, and is the data encrypted to protect patients in case of a lost or stolen phone?
  • Professional: Does the app meet professional standards, including ethical and legal guidelines?
  • Evidence-based: Does the app have sufficient data to be used safely?
  • Customizable: Does the app allow for the doctor and patient to evaluate, select and adapt the app together?
  • Transparent: Does the app clearly report how information is gathered, stored, examined, used, and shared?
Editorial Team
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