The Digital Revolution In Mental Health Hasn’t Happened Yet

Executive Briefing | by | February 13, 2017


Monica E. Oss
Monica E. Oss

“I think we are on the cusp of the third revolution in mental health. The first revolution was the idea that talking can cure mental illness, beginning with psychoanalysis. The second was the development of pharmacotherapy, beginning in the 1950s. Today, we are on the cusp of a third revolution, using technologies to create effective digital mental health interventions that provide entirely new methods of treating and managing mental health problems.”

This provocative statement was made during a recent presentation by David C. Mohr, Ph.D., director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University. And his explanation has made me think about what we need to do bring about the “revolution” that he is referring to.

Dr. Mohr

First, the background: There has been a great investment and lots of product development in the digital mental health area. Statista estimates that the global digital health market was $60.8 billion in 2013 and will likely reach $233.3 billion by 2020 (see Global Digital Health Market From 2013 To 2020, By Segment). This includes the continued growth of mobile health, which Statista predicts will be the source of the second-largest revenue share at $55.9 billion. How many apps does this equate to? That’s hard to judge, but as of 2016 there were 2.2 million apps available for Android users, and 2 million available in Apple’s App Store (see Planning Your Treatment Tech Investment).

But the early data has been more than a little discouraging. The Commonwealth Fund found that very few health care apps are effective at engaging consumers (see Developing a Framework for Evaluating the Patient Engagement, Quality, and Safety of Mobile Health Applications); a study published recently in Heath Affairs found that most apps failed to respond appropriately when a user entered potentially dangerous health information (see Mobile Health Apps Target High-Need, High-Cost Populations, But Gaps Remain); and despite early signs of success as a treatment for mental health issues, meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) shows it might be less effective over time, than previously thought (see The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis).

So what’s the problem, and what needs to happen for the digital revolution to occur? Dr. Mohr’s insight: “We have tech companies designing products, when they need to be designing services.”

I think this is a good frame for tech company executives designing new digital health tools as well as managers of provider organizations trying to make them work. Tech innovators need to consider product launches as incomplete until the “service application” of their technology is developed. This requires an iterative process that informs development with a few key steps:

  1. Market research — concept testing with demand estimates and high-level feasibility analysis
  2. Service line research — detailed product description, feature and benefit statements, compliance review, and reimbursement models
  3. Service line development — operating processes, flowcharts of consumer interfaces, information flow/connections, workforce models, pricing models, segmentation of market demand, and initial ROI estimates
  4. Human factors testing — service blueprinting with testing of stakeholder points of interaction
  5. Proof of concept testing — small field testing to prove the real world applicability of the new service
  6. Development of stakeholder ROI methodology — creation of a methodology for stakeholders to realize a “return” from the innovation that can be validated in a beta-market test
  7. Pilot or “beta” market test — testing the innovation in a selected “natural” market

For managers who are implementing digital medicine in their treatment processes, the same best practices apply as in implementing any technology — process redesign, staff and customer training, and more (see Five Ways To Ensure Success in Tech Implementation and More Tools For Tech ROI).

I agree that the digital revolution is around the corner. But, we have some work to do. For more help on beginning that work, join me on September 21 at 1:00 p.m. (EST), when I will host a webinar exploring best practices for tech in a changing market exclusively for OPEN MINDS Circle Elite members — Forecasting The Future: What’s The Impact Of Health Care Technology For Consumers & The Service Delivery System. Not an Elite member? Upgrade your account now to access OPEN MINDS Market Intelligence Reports, the Government RFP & Contract Database, special registrations to all OPEN MINDS institutes, and exclusive online executive education events.


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