Increasingly, healthcare consumers are turning to various types of health apps, many running on mobile phones, for health assessments, health monitoring, and even therapeutic recommendations. Even the most enthusiastic supporters of health apps will admit that a number of them have little value or may even be harmful. We need to come up with some process for assessing and vetting this software avalanche. Relevant to this discussion to is that the NHS is now making available apps, on-line courses, and social networks devoted to mental health on its official web site (see: England’s NHS launches library for accredited mobile health apps). Below is an excerpt from the article:
The National Health Service of England is taking steps to create a curated database of government-approved mobile health apps, starting in the area of mental health. NHS launched a library of five approved apps on its NHS Choices website, which gets 40 million visits per month, according to the NHS. As a large public health system, NHS struggles with waiting lists for health services including mental health. So they’ve aggressively looked to mobile health as a way to connect people to health services more efficiently. NHS began publicly evaluating mental health apps in February 2013, when they published a discussion paper on the subject....Right now, the site has five vetted online resources: Beating the Blues, a CBT-based computer (cognitive behavioral therapy) self-help course for anxiety and depression; Big White Wall, an anonymous, curated social network for people dealing with depression; FearFighter, a CBT-based self-help course for phobias; Ieso Digital Health, which offers live CBT therapy via secure instant messaging; and SilverCloud, an online platform that offers programs for different mental health conditions. The site offers descriptions of each program, instructions for accessing them, and a link to the clinical evidence that the program works. The plan is to add additional mental health apps over time, as well as to eventually expand into other mobile health areas. NHS chose mental health to start because of a large base of evidence that these interventions are effective.
It should come as no surprise that the NHS has launched a set of on-line resources devoted to mental health. It claims that interventions such as these can be effective and I am in no position to argue with this assertion. The NHS is chronically underfunded so this approach, if it works, is certainly a cost-effective way to deal with mental health problems in England. I believe that similar programs would never see the light of day in the U.S. Mental health professionals would mount a spirited attack on such an approach, probably citing the potential harm it might inflict on patients. They may be right but part of such opposition could be based on turf and financial issues. However, such a discussion may now proves to be unnecessary. The NHS is running the necessary "experiment" and we should soon know if this approach proves to be useful.
I found the article cited above to be very confusing in the sense that it conflates health-oriented apps running on smart phones with web-based networks and instant messaging systems. I have not spent enough time on the NHS Choices web site to determine whether the various options are made more clear there. Perhaps the problem is that CBT self-help courses are still very new and the naming conventions relating to them are in a state of flux.