Is Digital Health Truly the Future of Therapy?

October 24, 2019      |      Posted on Posted in In the News
Is Digital Health Truly the Future of Therapy?

In the face of today’s widespread mental health challenges, a booming digital health industry is promising solutions. ACI’s SVP of Marketing/IT, Tim Mutrie, asks the important question, “Is digital health the future of therapy?”

The notorious “move fast and break things” Zuckerberg mantra led to a booming technology era that disrupted every industry and created quite a few billionaires. The next big disruption is happening in the digital mental health space, an industry that exploded and is expected to grow to $206 billion by 2020 and $504.4 billion by 2025. As everyone seems to be looking to apps to solve today’s mental health crisis, it’s no longer time to ask “what can we do?” The real question has to be, “what should we do?” and more importantly, “why?”

People Feel More Isolated than Ever Before

While the digital age has certainly promised greater connection than ever before, it is a paradox. Even with hundreds of friends and thousands of likes, people are dealing with a growing loneliness epidemic, feeling more isolated than ever before. Not to mention, the rising youth Gen Z (aged 15-21) is also the most likely to report “poor mental health” and “high stress levels.” Beyond generational stress, opioid overdoses have become the number one killer of Americans under 50 and suicide rates have rapidly increased. Deemed the ‘new’ opioid crisis, benzo addiction and overdoses are on the rise, often prescribed for anxiety—an issue that impacts 18% of adults in the United States. In the face of today’s widespread mental health crisis, a growing crop of digital health apps is promising answers. But as the old adage says, “If something is too good to be true, it probably is.”

Consider these major concerns:

Will employee data be tracked, shared and/or sold?
With this fairly new and unregulated market, risks run high for privacy breaches, liability and lawsuits. According to a recent study published in JAMA, a review of 36 of the top-ranked apps for depression and smoking cessation in the U.S. and Australia found that the majority of these health apps share data with third-parties, but only 12 accurately disclosed the practice in its privacy policy.

Code for ‘Not-Clinically-Proven’

Are evidence-based promises of improved happiness clinically-proven?
One app promises users will feel happier after playing an ‘evidence-based’ game that crushes words like ‘loneliness,’ ‘fear,’ ‘anxiety,’ as they pop up on the screen. The real work of overcoming underlying fears and negative emotions goes a lot deeper than game play, scrolling and swiping. And the term evidence-based is often code for ‘not-clinically-proven.’ In many cases, businesses that sign up their workforce on new digital mental health platforms are unknowingly signing employees up to be the clinical trial.

Is digital health truly the future of therapy?
As these tech titans are looking to disrupt mental health and usher in a new era of digital therapy, they are disregarding the clinically-proven, longstanding practice of psychotherapy and offering ‘digital alternatives’ with fine print: “not a substitute for mental health therapy or treatment.” Following serious complaints from psychologists, APA has cancelled all Talkspace advertising moving forward. And as user information, usage and engagement will be tracked across these digital health apps, monitored and stored, there is no guarantee that employee data won’t be shared and sold.

Beyond these major concerns, the obvious and unsurprising truth is that digital apps are not a replacement for therapy. No programmed algorithm can empathize. And in the face of growing disconnection, depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness, addiction, pain, trauma, and mental health struggle, no app can offer true healing. Now, more than ever, is the time for human connection.

Change is constant. Possibilities are limitless. But every innovation needs to be purpose-driven, designed to empower people’s lives and enable better business. While there is certainly a place for digital health to serve as a tool for mental health maintenance, let’s not move too fast and break things as important as mental health, compassionate care, and human experience. I strongly believe that the first point of care needs to be powered by people, not bots. In the midst of life’s major challenges and changes, obstacles and triumphs, it is the power of human connection that transforms and heals. ​

See Tim’s original article in LinkedIn.