8 consumer-friendly digital tools to support behavioral health

Consumers have more discrete digital options than ever before.
By Dave Muoio
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From virtual therapy to mindfulness and meditation aids, there’s little shortage of digital tools catching investors’ eyes and breaking into the crowded behavioral health market. Although a number of these services are positioning their business to focus on payers and employers, many others are taking their products directly to consumers via monthly subscriptions, one-time retail purchases or outright free downloads.

Of course, having a wealth of options and varying quality of evidence can make selecting the most effective digital tool quite a challenge. Below, MobiHealthNews has compiled a selection of eight such consumer-friendly behavioral health tools that have recently been making headlines with new launches, funding or major product updates.

Basis

Basis looks to set itself apart from other app-based mental health counseling platforms through its low-cost sessions with and upfront, no strings attached pricing model. For $35, any user can connect with a trained paraprofessionals for a confidential 45-minute voice or video call. All sessions are initiated directly through the app or website after users complete a basic questionnaire.

The service is relatively new, having just launched in October alongside a $3.75 million investment. Of note, its counselors are not licensed mental health professionals but counselors who receive “extensive training developed by Stanford psychologists in research-backed approaches,” a model that the company adopted to keep its prices low.

Calm

Since its founding back in 2012, Calm has bolstered its meditation app with a steady stream of capabilities including a breathing coach feature; "sleep stories,” designed to help users fall asleep; a collection of soothing songs called Calm Music; and audio classes called Calm Masterclasses. The tool comes as either a premium service with original daily content, music tracks and programs for $60 annually, or as a pared down free version of the app.

Calm itself appears to be doing well for itself as of late, achieving unicorn status this year with the closure of an $88 million investor round and finding its way onto Samsung’s mobile wellness platform not too long after.

Simple Habit

Another meditation-based offering, the Simple Habit app offers more than a thousand guided meditations from famous mindfulness and meditation teachers. Users can also search for meditations aimed at particular symptoms like insomnia, or aimed at particular life situations like a hard day at work.

Meditations are as short as five minutes, and the app encourages users to complete one a day. The app is free, but users can pay for premium access and in-app purchases. 

For its part, Simple Habit closed a $10 million Series A round half a year ago. At the time, founder and CEO Yunha Kim noted that within the past year Simple Habit had “added more than 1,000 new sessions to our audio content library, doubled the number of experts who contribute content on Simple Habit, and saw 80 percent of our growth fueled by strong organic word of mouth.”

Woebot

Although first debuted as a Facebook Messenger app in 2017, the Woebot AI mental health chatbot has been available in smartphone app form since February 2018. A cross between a therapist and a friend, the bot is programmed to talk users through mental health struggles in a format resembling Apple’s iMessage or Google Hangouts.

“Woebot was created to be a fun and engaging way to talk about your mental health and look after mental health. It is drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy,” Dr. Alison Darcy, CEO and founder of Woebot Labs, told MobiHealthNews last year. “It’s kind of a therapeutic relationship that is really unusual and not really been available before in technology. People really enjoyed the fun of it and referring to Woebot as himself.”

The AI tool is currently free for anyone to download and use, although the company notes on its website that this could change sometime down the line.

Muse

Part app, part EEG headband, Muse is a digital meditation platform that monitors the user’s brain signals as they are completing their meditation exercises and responds to them with calming sounds to improve relaxation. Each session is recorded and stored within the app, allowing users to view their sessions and track their progress. With the release of the second iteration of the headband last fall, these records will also include breathing patterns and heart rate alongside brain activity.

The original and new devices can be purchased online for $199 and $249, and include unlimited access to the companion app’s tracking capabilities.

Vida Health

Vida Health’s digital coaching platform covers a handful of conditions, and for nearly a year now behavior health has been one of them. The targeted CBT program includes weekly sessions with state-licensed therapists. Consumers experiencing excess stress can access a mindfulness-based stress management program that includes one-on-one support from mindfulness coaches.

Users of both these services can track their progress through the Vida app, which integrates with more than 100 other devices and apps. What’s more, the behavioral health program and Vida’s other offerings were recently bolstered with a machine learning-powered recommendation and reminder tool to help drive lasting behavior change.

Headspace

Santa Monica-based Headspace’s primary product is a free-to-download meditation app. Once they’ve enrolled, users pick an area of their mental or behavioral health they’d like to focus on and receive a sample of meditative exercises targeting this area. Upon subscribing to the paid service, users are provided hundreds of guided mindfulness offerings and sessions. Of note, the company recently acquired voice-enabled AI system Alpine.AI, a move that Headspace said will allow its mindfulness meditation platform to expand its support of voice assistants like Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

Last summer Headspace launched a subsidiary company, Headspace Health, to investigate and develop clinically validated, FDA-approved meditation apps by 2020. Interestingly, this news came not long after publication of a BMC Psychology study suggesting no significant differences in outcomes among study groups using Headspace and a sham meditation app developed for the investigation.

AbleTo

New York-based startup AbleTo’s platform connects users with a nationwide network of behavioral health providers, who use the company’s structured treatment protocols to treat the user’s condition. And while the platform boasts roughly 600 therapists and coaches in its network, it also gained access to fellow startup Joyable’s mental health coaching and management app thanks to an acquisition announced last month.

While primarily geared toward employers and payers, AbleTo’s service is also available to consumers, although individuals will need to be covered by one of the several plans that supports the service.

Consumerization of Healthcare

In April, we'll look at the consumerization of healthcare from a variety of angles, including how to treat patients as customers.

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