What does evidence-based mean in digital mental health?

Dr Aleksandar Matic
Publish Date

3 questions to help you evaluate the science behind mental health solutions

With thousands of digital-first and app-based mental health and wellbeing solutions on the market, it can be hard to cut through the noise to find the right solution for your workforce. Especially since the majority of digital-first mental health solutions for the workplace claim to be evidence-based, but a comparatively small percentage have strong science (and scientists) to back them up.

Per research published in The Lancet and PLOS Digital Health, digital interventions have the potential to effectively diminish the symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. But very few solutions have an appropriate evidence base.

So how can organisations committed to boosting employee wellbeing ensure their existing or potential solutions have sufficient evidence to back them up? Here are a few questions to get started.

3 questions to ask around evidence-base in digital-first mental health solutions

1. Who’s behind it?

It’s often said, but bears repeating: what’s going on behind the scenes (and who’s doing what) is key. When evaluating a current or future mental health solution for your workplace, carefully assess exactly who is creating and curating content and services. Check for long-term research and projects conducted with leading educational and industry institutions, qualified experts on staff (how many MD, PhD and qualified experts are on the team), notable industry voices and a scientific advisory board.

2. How are solutions tested and approved?

Researching a solution’s clinical trials and third-party evaluations can protect your organisation against false claims and ensure proof of concept. Although paid pilots are undoubtedly an improvement on no data at all, the trusted industry standard is clinical trials, specifically, randomised controlled trials (RCTs). This type of study clearly indicates a solution’s effectiveness by comparing the results of a specific intervention against those of a control group that receives no intervention. One way to gauge the quality of an RCT is whether or not it’s been accepted for inclusion in a peer-reviewed scientific publication.

Another key marker of quality evidence-base is 3rd-party evaluations by expert reviewers. Notable reviewers for app-based mental health solutions include ORCHA (a reviewer of apps for NHSX and NHS England) and One Mind PsyberGuide. For example, only about 20% of apps reviewed pass ORCHA’s rigorous safety standards.

3. What therapeutic frameworks are used?

Many mental health solutions only use one or two scientific frameworks or techniques to support users. This severely limits their ability to address a complicated issue like mental wellbeing. To support the broadest cohort of employees possible, a well-rounded solution based on more than one science-based, well-established framework is needed. It should also include a wide range of activities and modalities with techniques drawn from clinically validated therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance Commitment Therapy, Positive Psychology, and Mindfulness.

Get further tips on how to evaluate the evidence base of mental health solutions and their trustworthiness in our Pocket guide: Mental health solutions, evidence base and trustworthiness.

You’ll learn:

-Key questions to ask about evidence base

-Why trust and data protection go hand in hand

-Where to source authentic user and client opinions

-How Koa Health’s evidence base measures up

about the author

Dr Aleksandar Matic, R&D Director at Koa Health

Dr Aleksandar Matic

R&D Director

An executive board member and Research and Development Director at Koa Health, Aleksandar builds and leads high-performing teams dedicated to evaluating data and developing technology to monitor, predict and positively impact mental wellbeing. A dedicated researcher and firm believer in the power of research and tech to make mental health more accessible to more people, he's been published in over 50 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 15 patent applications.