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article imageWhy many mental health apps are failing

By Tim Sandle     Nov 30, 2016 in Health
Health apps are becoming increasingly common. All of them collect data and this data is shared with the manufacturer. How concerned should we be? A new issue has been raised about mental health apps in particular.
Some health apps are fairly innocuous, such as those collecting information about the number of steps we might take. Others are linked to clinical trials and collect vital signs. Here there have been concerns about application providers or healthcare facilities sharing patient data with medical facilities. Often the privacy policy of such apps is not clear to the user and few people realize the extent to which their data is shared. Such concerns are in addition to questions about the reliability of the information provided.
Mental health apps are an important subdivision of the burgeoning healthcare apps market. A new report from Mashable indicates that many medical experts are concerned with the lack of clear and proven science to support many of apps available. In particular concerns have been raised about apps intended to assess the mood of a person, covering the spectrum of feelings from feeling happy to low mood and depression. These are the types of apps that are commonly available and downloadable from the Apple Store or Google Play.
As an example of the concerns, Bruce Bolam, who is the program director at VicHealth, recently reviewed 300 health and so-called wellbeing apps. The apps might score high on graphics and the user experience; however, Bolam was concerned about the specific treatment advice given and he expressed doubts, in many cases, about the science behind the medical information passed on to the user.
Called out for having specific problems were suicide prevention apps. Here many of these interactive platforms did not provide advice that was based on good clinical evidence. In fact, some apps were considered to be harmful, especially if interpreted by a user who was not thinking clearly.
In contrast, on app mentioned as one that does follow the evidence-based approach is MoodMission. Here the developers have worked with a reputable academic facility to create and test the app (in this case Monash University's School of Psychological Sciences). The creators of the app allowed the software to be tested in a controlled trial.
With many other apps failing to be subjected to robust testing or failing to follow the latest medical advice, this has led some to call for apps to regulated by statutory bodies. Whether this will happen or not requires political decision and there is likely to be lobbying from the medical side and the app developers.
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