Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Considering Mental Health Apps? APA App Advisor Can Help

As the number of mental health apps available for download continues to rise, psychiatrists are likely to receive questions from patients on the risks and benefits of these products. To help psychiatrists and other mental health professionals when selecting apps, APA has created the APA App Advisor—a website that guides users through questions to consider when evaluating mental health apps.

The APA App Advisor is an outgrowth of a mobile app evaluator put forth by an APA work group in 2017. Last December, APA brought together a diverse expert panel to assess the evaluation tool and consider ways to enhance it. The panel included not just psychiatrists but also psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, medical students, and people with lived experience of mental illness.

“We wanted to make sure a lot of different voices were heard,” John Torous, M.D., director of the Digital Psychiatry Division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and chair of the expert panel, told Psychiatric News.

The panel recommended the following questions as a good “jumping off” point when considering any mental health app:

  • On which platforms/operating systems does the app work? Does it also work on a desktop computer?
  • Has the app been updated in the last 180 days?
  • Is there a transparent privacy policy that is clear and accessible before use?
  • Does the app collect, use, and/or transmit sensitive data? If yes, does it claim to do so securely?
  • Is there evidence of specific benefit from academic institutions, end-user feedback, or research studies?
  • Does the app have a clinical/recovery foundation relevant to your intended use?
  • Does the app seem easy to use?
  • Can data be easily shared and interpreted in a way that is consistent with the stated purpose of the app?

The App Advisor features written and video tutorials on the evaluation tool, including some basics on navigating it. It also includes sample evaluations of 11 popular mental health and well-being apps conducted by panel members.

Torous emphasized that APA is not endorsing any of these apps by evaluating them. “These evaluations are aimed at giving psychiatrists a sense of what to look for when reviewing an app so they can make the most informed decision for their patient and practice,” he said.

For related news, see the Psychiatric Services article “Smartphone Apps for College Mental Health: A Concern for Privacy and Quality of Current Offerings.”

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