Mobile Apps Disruption Reaches Mental Health Care

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So much of the talks surrounding tech disruption deals with industry sectors and change in behavioral patterns—but can disruption change how we take care of our mental health?

Health care disruption is a big issue on the Davos agenda this year. The technologies underpinning the fourth industrial revolution have countless implications for the automatisation and improvement of global health care practices. From robotic arms performing surgery to 3D-printed prosthetic limbs, the human body is becoming increasingly high-tech. Not as highlighted on the official Davos agenda is a less tangible issue—mental health. A solution to the need for professional consultation and convenience may be provided by services creating platforms for patients to connect easily with real-life doctors.

There is no shortage of mobile apps focusing on both physical and mental health, especially around meditation. But not all of them deliver on what they promise. A recent study co-authored by the economist Simon Leigh at the University of Liverpool found that among the 14 apps for depression and anxiety listed by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), a mere four could scientifically back up their claims and only two used validated measurement tools to test their effectiveness. The NHS consequently took down their list and is working on “upgrading” it.

However, the need for mental health provisions is as urgent as ever. Global suicide rates are on the rise, and in the UK alone at least one in four people a year suffers from mental health problems. Cuts in investment in mental health care have affected the time people have to wait before seeing a professional, or the health care bill they have to endure. Heathtap is one of the online services seeking to address those inefficiencies. Speaking to Pro Journo after participating in a panel on technology in crisis situations organised by TechCrunch in Davos, founder Ron Gutman describes Heathtap as a “global health practice” providing access to health care “from query to cure.”

“It is a new paradigm in delivering care. There is a revolution in accessing care from mobile devices, which hasn’t been done before,” said Gutman. This paradigm may prove particularly effective for those seeking mental health consultation as the entire process can be done through a mobile device, anytime, anywhere.

Vanessa Kerry, a physician herself and founder of SeedGlobalHealth, a public/private organization focusing on health education for places facing a shortage of health professionals, recognizes both advantages and disadvantages of this kind of technology. One of her concerns relate to the kind of information a doctor can gather from simply being in the physical presence of its patient: “There is a degree of fidelity that is still lost, a very subtle, almost indescribable sixth sense about what’s happening with the patients.”

However, she also agrees that mobile apps could provide significant support for people suffering from mental health related issues, including contributing to destigmatisation. “The generation of millennials who are already using apps and pushing the way we communicate and the way we disseminate information, also have different views on mental health. They have the potential to really help change things.”

Remotely accessing doctor’s consultation could also encourage more people to seek mental health support. According to Gutman, it is a more convenient option: Doctors can access patients more efficiently, they can access more data on their patients, and patients not only access faster care and multiple doctors, but also receive heathcare from an environment that is comfortable and convenient for them. “The whole notion of embarrassment goes away,” he says.

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