Jan 12

An App a Day Keeps the Therapist Away?


Mental Health apps are popping up everywhere, often accompanied by big promises to ease one’s depression, improve sleep, cure anxiety, help someone quit smoking and more. While technological advancements allow for ingenious ways and greater accessibility for improving mental health, it is difficult to pick out the “gold” from the “glitter.” Using an ineffective app could delay an individual from receiving effective care, which could have devastating consequences. Sadly, many of these apps have not been tested in controlled trials before hitting the App Store. The big question is this: Are we being duped by slick marketing messages, or do these apps actually work?

Health organizations across the globe are starting to address this issue and set guidelines for picking out a helpful app from an unhelpful one. One such organization is the American Psychiatric Organization. They published a systematic method of evaluating mental health apps that is, at the least, a good start for finding ones that work. This method certainly isn’t the Bible for mental health apps, but it does offer an organized and intelligent framework for evaluating them. Below is a summary of their method for finding an effective mental health App:

Five Steps for Evaluating a Mental Health App:
1.Gather Background Information:
What is the business model? Who supports it?
Who developed the App?
Does it make medical claims?
What is the cost?
Does it integrate advertising into its usability?
What platforms does it work on? (IOS, Android, etc.)
How often is it updated for security? Glitches? Improved functionality?
2. Risk/ Privacy/ Security
Does the App have a privacy policy?
What data does the App collect?
Is personal data de-identified?
Can you opt out of data collection? Can you delete data?
Are cookies placed on your device?
Who is data shared with? What data is shared?
Are data maintained on the device or the web?
What security measures are in place? Are data encrypted?
Is the App HIPAA-compliant?
3. Evidence
What does the App claim to do vs. what does it actually do?
Is there peer-reviewed, published evidence? Are there randomised controlled trials?
Is there feedback from users to support its claims?
Does the content appear of at least reasonable value?
4. Ease of  Use
Is it easily accessible for the patient ( based on pt. diagnosis and other factors?)
Would it be easy to use on a long-term basis?
Is the App or features of the App customizable?
Does it need an active Internet connection?
What platforms does it work on?
Is it accessible for those with impaired vision, hearing, or other disabilities?
Is it culturally relevant?
Who “owns” the data? ( patient, provider, developer?)
Can it share data?
Can you print data?
Can you export/download your data?
Can it share data with other user data tools?

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