“Mental health apps offer a head start on recovery” – Irish Times, 18/01/18

Here is a piece by Sylvia Thompson on a recent First Fortnight panel discussion I took part in on apps in mental health.

Dr Séamus Mac Suibhne, psychiatrist and member of the Health Service Executive research technology team says that while the task of vetting all apps for their clinical usefulness is virtually impossible, it would be helpful if the Cochrane Collaboration [a global independent network of researchers] had a specific e-health element so it could partner with internet companies to give a meaningful rubber stamp to specific mental health apps.

“There is potential for the use of mental health apps to engage people with diagnosed conditions – particularly younger patients who might stop going to their outpatients appointments,” says Dr Mac Suibhne. However, he cautions their use as a replacement to therapy. “A lot of apps claim to use a psychotherapeutic approach but psychotherapy is about a human encounter and an app can’t replace that,” he says.

Here are some other posts from this blog on these issues:

Here is a post on mental health apps and the military.

Here is a general piece on evidence, clinical credibilty and mental health apps.

Here is my rather sceptical take on a Financial Times piece on smartphones and healthcare.

Here is a piece on the dangers (and dynamics) of hype in health care tech

Here is a post on a paper on the quality of smartphone apps for panic disorder.

Quality of Smartphone Apps Related to Panic Disorder

More discoveries from Planet Embase:

Quality of smartphone apps related to panic: smartphone apps have a growing role in health care. This study assessed the quality of English-language apps for panic disorder (PD) and compared paid and free apps. Keywords related to PD were entered into the Google Play Store search engine. Apps were assessed using the following quality indicators: accountability, interactivity, self-help score (the potential of smartphone apps to help users in daily life), and evidence-based content quality. The Brief DISCERN score and the criteria of the “Health on the Net” label were also used as content quality indicators as well as the number of downloads. Of 247 apps identified, 52 met all inclusion criteria. The content quality and self-help scores of these PD apps were poor. None of the assessed indicators were associated with payment status or number of downloads. Multiple linear regressions showed that the Brief DISCERN score significantly predicted the content quality and self-help scores. Poor content quality and self-help scores of PD smartphone apps highlight the gap between their technological potential and the overall quality of available products.

In this case, the full paper is available here . From the introduction:


A number of recent studies have assessed the quality of medically oriented apps in various fields, such as smoking cessation, weight management, sleep, cancer, and diabetes (1436). While acknowledging the potential opportunity offered by apps-related technologies, these studies concluded that the apps available from different stores, with few exceptions, were of overall poor quality. A gap was furthermore found between the considerable number of apps related to medical conditions available in stores and the low number of peer-reviewed papers about them (37). In particular, despite their potential to improve health care, mental health apps currently available in stores lack scientific evidence about their efficacy (38). With few exceptions (3941), preliminary findings reported for health apps were similar to previous findings on the poor quality of health information websites (4246).

Unsurprisingly then, the authors find that the quality of apps “for” Panic Disorder is …. poor.

 Despite expectations about the potential of PD apps to improve treatments (51, 52), the apps available to users from stores to date need to be improved and to include more patterns of evidence-based information, more interactive assessments, such as ecological momentary assessments (67), and more self-help options.

Crowds aren’t always wise:

Factors related to the community success of a given app, such as the number of downloads and whether the app was recommended, as well as factors linked to the economic model, such as payment status or a link to paid content, were not associated with content quality or self-help scores. This is somewhat surprising, particularly in regard to the number of downloads. One might expect better quality for the most downloaded apps. The results are possibly limited by the assessments of apps found only on the Google Play Store as well as by the small number of apps with a high amount of downloads (only three apps with more than 5000 downloads).