New standards for mental health apps

New standards for mental health apps

November 30, 2020

A new set of national standards will attempt to control the quality of mental health services provided online in Australia.

The standards, developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and led by former CEO of the National Mental Health Commission Dr Peggy Brown, were initially commissioned in 2018 in response to a rise in mental health smartphone apps.

New standards will seek to provide a guideline for quality in mental health apps.Credit:iStock

However, they will have new relevance after many mental health providers pivoted to providing their services online as the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year. The federal government has also expressed an ongoing commitment to funding Telehealth services.

Dr Brown said, although the move to Telehealth was "a relatively successful transition", taking the intimate nature of a therapy session and providing it online has not been without its challenges.

"The issue that really blew up for most practitioners at the time was around the security of their system and a consent mechanism," she said.

"If someone used to visit a clinician in an office, that clinician now needs to stop and think: is it safe for them at their end? Are they in an environment where it can be confidential?"

President-elect of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Associate Professor Vinay Lakra, said although "everyone is getting better at Telehealth" and online services have been common in regional areas for a decade, the transition had proven to be a learning curve.

He said his college welcomed the standards, which include 59 actions for online mental health providers, such as developing a system for responding when someone is distressed or at risk of self-harm while accessing remote mental health care as well as privacy requirements.

Standards particularly relevant for the app industry include requirements for any advertising to be "appropriate for service users", requirements for the disclosure of data collection – particularly data provided anonymously or while using a pseudonym – as well as for services to have been designed by clinicians with appropriate qualifications.

"Many of them do not have privacy policies, some are certainly known to share your data, and many of them don't have an evidence base at all," Dr Brown said.

"If you're in a vulnerable state and you access an app that is not effective, all you will do is delay the amount of time until you receive effective treatment."

Although the standards are voluntary, Dr Brown said she hoped they could be adopted by services such as the App Store to show quality in online mental health services.

"I think it raises the bar in a very positive way," said Professor Nick Titov, executive director of online mental health clinic Mindspot, who chaired the commission's advisory group on the standards.

Dr Lakra said there was definitely a place for online mental health treatment, particularly for milder symptoms, provided people know to seek face-to-face help if their condition does not improve.

    Lifeline 13 11 14

    Catch all the day’s breaking news

    At the end of each day, we’ll send you the most important breaking news headlines, evening entertainment ideas and a long read to enjoy.  Sign up here.

    Most Viewed in National

    Source: Read Full Article