Individuals seeking health care are increasingly interested in using technology to help manage their symptoms and obtain treatment. A poll by The Pew Research Center reported that in 2012, 72 percent of Internet users reported seeking health information online (PRC, 2013) and of the 64 percent of people who own a smartphone (PRC, 2015), 62 percent reported having used it to acquire some type of health-related information (PRC, 2015). These trends in general health present a great opportunity for improvements to existing care-delivery models in mental health too.
Mobile apps are a burgeoning area of health technology which have substantial opportunity to improve treatment, quality of life, and patient self-management and engagement. Numerous professional and non-professional groups have acknowledged the value of these tools, as they are often well-liked by users and have advantages over traditional in-person therapy. For many individuals, therapy is out of reach due to cost, access/provider availability, transportation, or stigma. Though not necessarily a replacement for traditional therapy, apps and other healthcare technologies can help these individuals overcome these barriers and begin to reduce their symptoms and better manage their mental health.
For others, apps can be a helpful adjunctive to regular treatment, allowing them to be more engaged and get more support between sessions. While in-person therapy offers a human relationship that isn’t always possible within an app, mental health clinicians have an opportunity to work WITH these tech tools to enhance their in-person work and take advantage of the benefits that come with the use of technology in their practices.
When beginning to introduce apps into your practice, there are some things to consider in order to be successful and ensure your clients accept and use the new technology.
1. Think about your goals–what will the app help you or your client to do? Don’t introduce technology just because you can. Have an idea of what you think the app or program can be good for, and explain that. Perhaps it’s mood tracking or building a mindfulness meditation practice. Make sure that whatever tool you are suggesting is clinically appropriate and indicated for that client.
2. Be familiar with the tools you’re suggesting. A surefire way to make your client doubtful of the technology is to lack understanding and knowledge of the app and how it works. The more comfortable you are with the app, the more they will be too. Download and use the app yourself. In addition to having more credibility with your clients, you may discover interesting or valuable ways to use the technology that perhaps aren’t immediately obvious otherwise.
3. Put yourself in your client’s shoes. When introducing the client to the app, don’t grab the client’s phone and do it for them. Instead, talk them through the process, allowing them to click through the different tools and describing what to use and when so that they feel a level of familiarity with the app before they leave your office. This is particularly important for apps that have minimal in-app guidance.
4. Problem solve using the app. When might a client want to use a given tool? Provide some suggestions for scenarios and think about any difficulties they might run into ahead of time.
5. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your clients. You might find it helpful to pick just one app at a time to keep it simple. If you start using a wide variety of products, it may be difficult to keep track of how the apps work, what they do, etc.
7. Have a discussion about the use of the technology much like you would have at the beginning of therapy. What are the limits of confidentiality? Will your client expect that you will be reviewing their app usage? Should they use the app to communicate with you? It’s important for provider and client to have an open and frank conversation about what is and is not appropriate for app usage, and what the client’s expectations should be. Some clients may not fully understand how apps work, and it’s incumbent upon the provider to make sure their clients are informed before beginning to use an app or other tech tools.
Thinking about taking the leap of bringing your practice into the 21st century by starting to work with a mental health app? Consider Pacifica. Pacifica is a mobile application that empowers people to manage their stress, anxiety, and depression using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques. The app currently has over 1.4 million registered users and has been highly-rated and well-received in the App Store and Google Play Store, reflecting its appealing design and engaging tools.
In addition to its iOS and Android consumer apps, Pacifica Labs also offers Pacifica for Clinicians, a dashboard tool designed to help mental health care providers leverage the app with their patients and improve treatment effectiveness. The HIPAA-compliant clinician-facing product allows providers to administer and score assessments, conduct teletherapy, and increase between-session engagement and therapeutic efficiency with assignments and education.