Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Digital apps in mental health

Charlotte Blease (2023) points out that the digital health economy is out of control. There are tens of thousands of apps for people to download. The motivation for these apps may not necessarily be to improve patient care but to make profit (see eg. previous post). 

What's needed is better evidence that these apps are of any benefit to people. Placebo effects need to be controlled in research studies. As Charlotte says, many studies lack a clear description of the nature of the control. Robust placebo design is required in randomised controlled studies. As with psychotherapy trials there will always be a question in assessing the efficacy of mental health apps about the adequacy of control groups (see my BMJ letter). There is enough questioning even of the effectiveness of psychotropic medication (see eg. another previous post) and psychotherapy (see eg. yet another previous post) to reinforce the need to ensure that these apps are not really exploiting people. 

There is concern, of course, in general about misinformation on the internet (see eg. previous post). But medication and other physical treatments for mental health problems and psychological therapy are being oversold on the internet (see eg. another previous post). How are we supposed to decide which is the best app to use? Does it matter? Are they just panaceas (see yet another previous post)? I'm not saying using a digital app may not help. But we do need to recognise their limitations and potential costs and side effects.

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