2021 was a defining moment in our relationship to technology. As the pandemic forced much of the world to stay home, more people than ever found themselves consistently connected to their devices. Technology became an integral part of our lives, from how we work to how we connect with our friends and family to how we receive our health care. And in a year where COVID-19 brought an onslaught of mental health challenges and concerns, mental health care delivered via technology became all the more present: from self-guided meditation apps, video platforms for virtual therapist sessions, AI-powered chatbots, and everything in between.
These digital offerings could help improve accessOpens a new window to and expand the overall reach of mental health support, but it’s not all positive. Digital mental health solutions need to toe a fine line between encouraging people to be even more tethered to their devices (the â€œalways-onâ€ mentality inspired by being connected to our workspaces and devices 24/7) and actually getting people high-quality care that allows them to live meaningful and fulfilling lives outside of the app.
If digital mental health companies want to leverage technology in a way that actually benefits their members, they need to first deeply understand the needs and preferences of these members, prioritize equitable access to care that meaningfully meets these needs, and think carefully about how the goals and metrics they’re using to measure success could affect member behavior.Â
Prioritize Equity and Diversity
The first step to creating a positive and beneficial digital mental health care offering should happen when the technology is first created. Every decision, from the coding of the platform to the number of care modalities offered, should account for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. If your technology doesn’t reflect, acknowledge, or cater to the varied experiences of your users, you have ultimately created a biased platform. Though unintentional, this bias excludes some people, usually people of color, from receiving mental health support.Â
Mental health companies should prioritize diversity in their team and their providers. Representation is critical to building an inclusive experience. A user should be able to talk with someone who shares the same identities or participate in an environment where folks can discuss a shared experience. Digital health companies need to keep these DEIB components in mind to ensure their technology is not just working for some of their members but is working for all of them.Â
Reimagine Your Goals and Metrics
After creating a digital platform with a plethora of modalities and a diverse care team, mental health companies need to think carefully about what success looks like for their users. At Modern Health, our overarching goal is to give individual users the level of care that they want and need. For some, this need may include coming to the app every day to complete a mediation, while for others, it might consist of a monthly check-in or several weeks of weekly therapy. Whatever members need, we want our app to enable users to manage their mental health and live the life they want.Â
Our goal is not to be the Instagram of mental health. In other words, users feeling a need to constantly check or update their mental health app in the same way they might interact with Instagram does not necessarily equal an effective tool. To prevent reliance or over-connectedness with the mental health platform, companies should analyze a customized set of metrics to determine how users are interacting with the platform. Unlike apps akin to Instagram, standard metrics like â€œnumber of times a user logs onto the platformâ€ or â€œlength of time a user spends on the platformâ€ may not apply. After all, if the goal of the technology is to inspire self-sufficiency and resilience, these metrics may not accurately reflect that goal.Â
Instead, companies should analyze metrics that are just as personal as the technology they’ve created by applying different measures of success to different users. This means that companies should create goals tied to specific outcomes, like â€œuser feels more confident at workâ€ or â€œuser can transition from coaching sessions to digital programming,â€ and track user progress towards those outcomes. This is no easy task, but it demonstrates how companies should go above and beyond to ensure that their users get the most out of their technology.
Integrate Human Connection
Finally, to create a positive digital experience, companies need to integrate the right amount of human connection for the individuals that need it most. Humans are inherently social beings, and the relationships we form with others are extremely beneficialOpens a new window to our mental health and wellbeing. AI and automated technology may play a role in some parts of care, but what works for some may not work for all. For some folks, human connection, whether with a provider or a community, is an integral and necessary part of their care plan.
If individuals aren’t as technologically savvy, they may struggle in interacting with a wholly digital platform where care is delivered via chat-bots or completely self-guided programs. Instead, companies should create an easy-to-use digital front door that anyone can understand, like a webpage with clear and coherent directions. From there, users should be able to choose from a variety of modalities, some of which may be completely digital, while others, like 1:1 therapy or group, bring people together in connection on a seamless and human-focused platform that prioritizes the needs of the user.Â Â
This need for human connection suggests that while technology is embedded into every facet of our world, there are steps that companies can take to make their digital mental health offerings work better for their customers and clients. By leveraging technological solutions to inspire self-reliance and mental resilience, digital mental health support can be an important tool in helping people put their phones down and keep their heads up.