How Do We Know If Digital Mental Health Solutions Are Effective?
There are a wealth of digital mental health solutions available now. But how do we actually know if they’re working for patients? Several digital health experts weighed in on this topic Wednesday at the Behavioral Health Tech 2023 conference held in Phoenix.
Dr. Yavar Moghimi, chief psychiatric medical officer at AmeriHealth Caritas, said one benefit he noticed from the transition to digital mental health is a reduction in people not showing up for appointments. He said that no-show rates are a major issue among Medicaid populations considering their “competing priorities in their lives.” AmeriHealth Caritas offers Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare plans.
Moghimi noted, however, that different patients have different needs, and it’s important to address that as well. For example, those with mild mental health symptoms require a different kind of care than those with more severe symptoms.
“I think when we’re defining what is working, we have to look at what tier of care we’re trying to provide in the continuum as well,” Moghimi said.
Jenna Carl, chief medical officer of mental health company Big Health, added that digital mental health solutions need a proven therapeutic effect, which requires controlled clinical trials. This is an area that has been “overlooked in the digital health space,” Carl declared.
“The reason is because I think people naturally focus on thinking, ‘Well, it’s really just about utilization.’ But utilization is not outcomes,” Carl said.
Another panelist said it’s important to know who the digital mental health solution is working for and who it’s supposed to work for. This is ideally the patient, the clinician and the health plan, said Dr. Anthony Sossong, chief medical director of behavioral health at telemedicine company Amwell. This ultimately comes down to looking at quality of care and improvement in symptoms.
“I say symptoms because I’m a clinician and that’s where I go first,” Sossong said. “But ultimately what we want and what the patient wants is improved quality of life. In terms of measuring those things, quality of life is a lot harder to measure than symptom reduction because typically people are in a place where they can be measured when they’re having symptoms. … Ultimately, at minimum, we want evidence-based treatment that works for the thing that it is intended to work for.”
According to Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi, chief medical officer of digital mental health company Talkspace, one way to know a solution is working is if it’s improving access to care.
“When we see that half of members that come to us are brand new to therapy, that says to me that they would not have otherwise come in for treatment if not for a more convenient modality or having their health insurance cover services for them,” Benders-Hadi said.
Megan Jones Bell, clinical director of consumer and mental health at Google, noted that the healthcare industry should not only look at improved access to care but if the care is actually “bending the curve on this mental health crisis.”
“I think we’ve made a big step forward in the access piece,” Jones Bell said. “We know that at a population level, more people are getting access to mental health care. But the outcomes are not improving. I think we’ve forgotten a bit about that second piece.”
Editor’s note: The conference covered the reporter’s accommodations.
Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images