Mental health apps helpful but poor design, privacy concerns contribute to low engagement

By Laura Lovett
04:15 pm

A clinical review, published in Evidence Based Mental Health Month, suggests numerous issues, including poor app design and privacy concerns, have contributed to a low engagement rate for mental health apps. The article goes on to suggest that more patient engagement during the app design process and the creation of standards could help remedy these issues. 

“The potential of smartphone apps to improve quality and increase access to mental health care is increasingly clear,” authors of the study wrote. “Yet even in the current global mental health crisis, real-world uptake of smartphone apps by clinics or consumers remains low.”

Despite the fact that numerous studies have displayed the effectiveness of mental health apps, engagement continues to be a hurtle, according to the study. 

“To date, there is little direct evidence about why engagement with mental health apps remains low,” researchers wrote. “However, there are several potential theories. These include that apps are not user-friendly, are not designed in a user-centric manner, do not respect privacy, are seen as an untrustworthy source of mental health information and are of less use when needed the most in emergency situations.”

Engaging patients in mental health services has been a struggle for a long time—not just when it comes to mobile. Authors pointed out that engagement levels are low in both traditional therapies and computerized therapies as well. However, mental health apps have a particularly low retention rate. Authors noted that 74 percent of users stop engaging with the app after only 10 uses, citing market research data. 

“The goal in identifying theories for lack of app engagement is not to deny the potential of digital mental health efforts, but rather to better understand important areas of improvement and future focus,” authors wrote. “While creating mental health apps that will be more engaging is a challenge, there are numerous opportunities including education, consumer involvement in design/testing, clinical and peer engagement, developing apps responsive to emergencies, building trust through standards and developing collaborations with professional designers and game developers.”

The researchers went on to discuss how involving patients and clinicians in on the design could help the tools become more usable for both stakeholders. 

“The potential of smartphone apps to advance and even transform clinical care for psychiatric illness is increasingly clear,” researchers wrote. “But translating novel research study findings into real-world use cases for these apps requires they are engaging and well-used by service users.”

Using apps to help treat and provide resources for mental health is becoming increasingly popular

A recent study published by Psychiatric Services found that mobile health interventions were as effective in treating patients with serious mental illness compared to an in-person group therapy. 

The study found that participants in the mobile health group were more likely to remain fully engaged in the eight-week study than those receiving traditional care. Researchers also found that satisfaction rates between the two groups were similar, and that the conditions of participants in both groups improved significantly. 

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