Mobile technology in private practice — keep up or get left behind

An estimated 97,000 mobile health apps are now available worldwide, aiming to help us track our diet and exercise, monitor our moods, even monitor our chronic diseases. Yet many of these apps — including some which claim to address mental health issues — are not regulated, nor is there much evidence of their effectiveness, cautioned speakers at a symposium Friday on the use of apps and text-messaging in the practice of psychology.

“We’re scientists — we need to have evidence that something works before we use it with our clients,” said Marlene Maheu, PhD, executive director of the TeleMental Health Institute in San Diego.

Telehealth blog photoTo help practitioners figure out the safest and most effective apps to recommend to their clients, the speakers recommended examining these key questions when evaluating a mobile health app:

  • Will it meet your clients’ or patients’ needs and is it appropriate?
  • Is the app from a reputable source?
  • Is there an established evidence-base for the app, including research on the intervention underlying the app, as well as specifically associated with the app itself?
  • What are the user ratings and how often is the app downloaded?
  • Does it meet regulatory requirements based on its intended use?
  • If a client’s health information is going to be transmitted to you or another party, does the app meet data and privacy requirements, particularly related to HIPAA?

Finally, test the app yourself before endorsing it with your clients, said David Luxton, PhD, a research health scientist at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego. He also recommended examining the list of U.S. FDA approved mobile health devices.

“It you’re not familiar with these technologies today as a clinician, it’s time to start paying attention because our patients are demanding them,” Luxton said.


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