Research explores attitudes and experiences around the use of digital mental health technology

Recently published research commissioned by the MHRA and NICE has explored attitudes and experiences of current and potential users of digital mental health technology (DMHT), aiming to “inform the design of future regulatory and evaluation frameworks for DMHT”.

The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, incorporated findings from a range of sources, including focus groups and in-depth interviews with adults, children, social workers and SEND leads. Participants were asked questions about their experiences with DMHT, as well as how these technologies might be deployed, regulated, and endorsed.

Of those who participated, findings showed that “around half” had used apps for mental health purposes, and that selecting an app to use tended to be driven by recommendations from family and friends. In general, participants took a “trial and error” approach to app selection, and whilst some were “very pleased with the products they had used”, others reportedly found the design and functionality lacking.

Additionally, a “high proportion” of participants said that they were no longer using DMHT for a variety of reasons: either because they had worked, their reasons for using had lapsed, the costs were too high, or they did not feel like it made a difference.

Some of the key findings around the deployment of DMHT were that participants felt it could be used “to try and cover over failings in the mental health care system”, and that use should generally be alongside other treatment such as regular therapy, “though in some cases an app on its own might be all a patient needs”. Apps were also seen as “a temporary substitute” for those awaiting diagnosis or treatment, and participants felt they should be “free at the point of use”, and should offer a means of contacting a healthcare professional to seek help.

Other points highlighted by participants included frustration that a source of “authoritative guidance” on DMHT was not already in place, and uncertainty around the potential for AI to be used in areas such as mood monitoring, diagnosis, and therapeutic discussion.

Summarising contributions, the research highlighted up user priorities including the integration of DMHT into wider mental health services; NHS endorsement and published guidance on best use and risks; and regulation on data security.

To read the research in full, please click here.

In related news, Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust is participating in NHSE’s 26-week Clinically-Led workforce and Activity Redesign (CLEAR) project, which will see the “revamp” of mental health crisis referral pathways, building on existing CLEAR work on developing new models of care and aiming to reduce waiting times for CAMHS in Hull and East Riding.

Elsewhere, Leeds Teaching Hospitals has launched a pilot project involving the use of a smartphone application designed to monitor and manage Parkinson’s disease symptoms, with 90 patients currently utilising the app and plans for future expansion.