Smartphone technology has increased the availability of mental health services over the years. With apps ranging from electronic health records (EHRs) with medical information to those assisting meditation techniques, the public is able to access mental health care more readily than ever before. September 15 marks National Information Technology (IT) Professionals Day, which takes place on the third Tuesday of September each year, providing an opportunity to explore the ways in which smartphones have affected the quality and accessibility of mental health care nationwide.
Some leading telehealth companies are in the process of developing “portable phone attachments” that connect to a smartphone and provide information on health vitals. Collecting data within the mental health field often requires videoconferencing in the context of counseling services and is becoming more common for individuals in remote regions of the country. For instance, if a therapist specializing in social anxiety is located in New York but an individual struggling with the debilitating disorder is located in Iowa, he or she can access the specialist through Skype, FaceTime or one of the other teleconferencing technologies available today.
Kaiser Permanente, a leading non-profit health care provider in the United States, has famously implemented telemedicine throughout the past decade. Now patients of Kaiser Permanente are able to access their medical records on their smartphones through the organization’s app. They can also schedule, view or cancel appointments through the app and get medical advice from doctors. This is beneficial for medical and mental health care, though some professionals aim to have a similar infrastructure independent from any specific providers to ensure that all health information is accessible regardless of whether an individual switches doctors or health insurance. Currently, there is no nationwide database that serves this purpose.
There are hundreds of apps available regarding mental health care in some form. These apps include those geared toward individuals struggling with depression, smoking addiction or grief, those seeking marriage counseling or looking for mindful meditation to reduce stress. A 2013 meta-analysis of data on the effectiveness of these apps, entitled “Smartphones for Smarter Delivery of Mental Health Programs: A Systematic Review,” found that individuals who use such apps report lower levels of stress, depression and substance abuse. While this meta-analysis found that “mental health apps have the potential to be effective and may significantly improve treatment accessibility,” there is little scientific backing to a majority of these apps. For this reason, the public is encouraged to exercise caution when taking mental health or other medical advice from apps lacking in scientific credibility.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, help is available. Contact the California Mental Health Helpline today to be connected with a treatment center in your area.