Demand is high for digital technology that addresses addiction treatment and other behavioral health concerns. As a result, startups are stepping in to meet that demand, and attracting a lot of funding in the process, according to a recent article from Kaiser Health News (KHN), published on Fierce Biotech.
Some apps provide remote consultations with clinicians who can prescribe medication-assisted treatment for addiction. Other apps guide users through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, offer peer support, or track remote lab results.
Digital treatment solutions could close gaps created by a shortage of behavioral health providers. They also offer privacy and convenience that could help reduce stigma. But are they effective treatments?
What does research show about behavioral health apps?
Some research suggests that digital behavioral health apps can be effective. One review of seven meta-analyses found that these apps helped with anxiety or depression, often for several months after the study.
Another study published in Addiction looked at the effectiveness of remote continuing care for alcohol use disorder, delivered either by telephone or smartphone. While either solution provided effective remote continuing care, the authors noted that the effects did not persist post-treatment.
Other researchers found that apps are effective as part of a broader treatment plan rather than standalone solutions. For example, one study noted that apps that use CBT and mindfulness exercises can reduce anxiety symptoms, but especially when used with face-to-face or Internet-based therapies.
Unfortunately, many studies have been small, short, or otherwise of low quality. More research could help shine a brighter light on the true benefits and shortcomings of mental health apps. However, the KHN article points out that clinical studies of addiction treatments can be difficult due to a lack of follow-up or low adherence.
Are there drawbacks to digital behavioral health solutions?
Evidence shows that digital behavioral health solutions are not for everyone. Many individuals, especially those struggling with addiction, lack the finances to pay out-of-pocket costs or fees. They may be homeless, not own a mobile device, or lack reliable internet access. Funding for behavioral health startups does not necessarily go toward expanding access to the technology.
Behavioral health apps may lack standardization. Users who choose their own app may not understand which features are best for their particular needs. Clinicians may not have the necessary research to guide their clients’ choices.
In a discussion of ethical and safety concerns of mental health apps, experts note that many developers are not affiliated with mental health professionals, potentially limiting accuracy and effectiveness. These tools also lack emergency information, which could leave users more vulnerable in a mental health emergency.
User data security is another concern. Digital health developers may not make cybersecurity a high priority, leaving users’ health data vulnerable to security breaches.
With an increasing demand for addiction treatment and mental health services, there is definitely a place for digital apps and other behavioral health tech. Research shows that these solutions could have benefits.
However, there are still drawbacks and a lack of information associated with these tools. As such, they are best used with other techniques, including face-to-face therapy, rather than providing a solution all by themselves.
Digital tools are crucial for behavioral health providers, but not all solutions are created equal. BestNotes EHR solutions help streamline many business processes so you can spend more time with clients. BestNotes supports in-person and telehealth services, as well as medication management, scheduling, billing, and human resources. Contact us today to schedule your free demo!