How evidence supports the effectiveness of digital mental health solutions

‘Digital mental health solutions can allow clinicians to provide quality care with fewer face-to-face sessions and in some cases with no face-to-face care at all. This allows them to do more with the same resources, increasing efficiency and reducing overall costs’. Stephen Dunne, Chief Digital Therapeutics Officer, Koa Health

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Stephen Dunne
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Worldwide, nearly 45% of the population lives in countries with less than one mental health professional per 100,000 people. In the UK alone, the shortage of mental health professionals is striking—only 1 consultant psychiatrists per 12,567 people, with over 1.5 million people in England waiting for mental health services.

As growing proportions of populations around the world deal with consequences of quarantine measures and the pandemic itself, the demand for mental health support is only going to increase. In the UK, the Centre for Mental Health predicts up to 10 million people (20% of the population) will need new or additional mental health support as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Mental health care has become more necessary than ever before even as traditional, in-person support has regrettably, only become more difficult to access for many people who need it.

But while adapting mental health support into a digital format may solve problems of access, affordability and scale, an important question remains: How effective is it?

On the efficacy of digital mental health support

People use digital solutions to work more effectively. Are they effective for mental health difficulties too?

Scott Graham via Unsplash

App-based interventions aren’t just more economical and easily accessible to people and their providers, there’s a growing body of evidence that supports their efficacy. Recent research indicates that digital interventions have the potential to effectively diminish the symptoms of mental disorders (such as depression), even in low and middle-income countries.

Specifically, initial studies have shown digital mental health support to be effective as a tool in stress management as well as in the treatment of depression, body dysmorphic disorder, and anxiety, among other mental health difficulties.

We’ve seen positive results in regards to efficacy as we’ve tested our products, too. In two internal studies (carried out in late 2019 and early 2020) of our science-based mental wellbeing app for teams, Foundations, we saw impressive results, with 9 out of 10 users reducing their perceived stress scores within two weeks. Foundations also saw a positive impact on anxiety, stress, resilience, sleep quality and overall life satisfaction in a Randomised Control Trial conducted in the UK—we’re currently in the process of publishing results and will share more details soon.

Unfortunately, not all app-based or digital mental health solutions undergo rigorous (or really any) clinical testing. Techniques and tools with a strong scientific background and sufficient evidence to back them up are few and far between. Many of the products available don’t have the backing of even one mental health professional, much less an experienced team of behavioural scientists, psychiatrists and mental health experts. And without expertise, evidence, or science as a foundation, how can these solutions ensure safe, effective support for the people who depend on them?

Identifying evidence-based digital solutions

With thousands of digital health solutions on the market and only around 3% of them with an evidence base to back them up, it’s a daunting challenge to separate solutions grounded in science and developed by experts from the rest. How can employers, healthcare providers, insurers and individuals find services that are supported by appropriate clinical scientific rationale, handle data securely, and are financially sound enough to last for a significant period of time?

At Koa Health, our app-based wellbeing tools are designed by mental and behavioural health experts to be practical, personalised and accessible. Recently, Foundations, our science-based mental wellbeing app designed to help employees handle stress and build resilience received a 100% rating in clinical assurance and an 88% score overall from ORCHA, the organisation that NHS digital uses to evaluate apps. Only 15% of apps evaluated on their criteria for data privacy, clinical assurance and user experience meet ORCHA’s minimum standards.

We want our solutions to make the maximum positive impact possible on mental health, and we believe that’s only possible with a strong evidence-base to back them up. That’s why we’re committed to collaborating with third parties on continued testing to gather data on the efficacy of our products, as well as tracking results internally over time.

Using clinically validated techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy, our solutions enable people to better manage mental health issues ranging from workplace stress to chronic mental health conditions requiring a doctor’s supervision.

Does your organisation offer digital mental health support? Or are concerns about the evidence-base and trustworthiness of app-based solutions a barrier? Get in touch with your questions at info@koahealth.com.

about the author

Stephen Dunne

Chief Digital Therapeutics Officer @ Koa Health

As CDTxO at Koa Health, Stephen's responsible for clinical product development. Dedicated to translating cutting edge science into technologies with real positive impact, Stephen spent his early career working in space applications before moving his focus to healthcare and bringing these skills to bear in applied neuroscience, leading a team that developed breakthrough hardware and software for brain monitoring and modulation.