Using apps for mental health was written by Ross Campbell, Chief Underwriter of Research & Development based in Gen Re London.
It was originally published on the Gen Re blog and it is © published with the permission of General Reinsurance AG 2016.
Improved awareness and recognition of mental health problems and their complexity puts pressure on health systems to increase care. This stimulates exploration of the potential value of software applications (apps) run on mobile devices. The ubiquity of smartphones makes them an ideal tool for apps that can help individuals manage mental health.
Apps create long-term patient health data in a way that episodic clinic consultations cannot. They generate a personal health record fundamentally different from a clinical patient record . Doctors have much to gain from the comprehensive and detailed information gathered by this form of continuous monitoring. Insurers can also benefit from the potential of this technology, especially for claims.
Apps for mental health can monitor physiological cues associated with sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, phobias and psychosis. For example, depression is associated with a fall in activity levels – less exercise, movement and fewer social interactions. Sensors in smartphones can help spot patterns of altered behaviour that may represent the early warning signs of lowered mood.
Some apps for mental health can even help diagnose problems. Others help people track and manage mood using self-assessment techniques augmented by coaching functionality. Online environments are a gateway to support from more specialist clinical resources. The resources allow patients more control of their mental health management while enabling clinicians to monitor and support them remotely.
Some other apps for mental health can also help with treatment by sending reminders about medication or appointments, regardless of the person’s location. And they can provide distraction from cravings or link with social networks at times of stress. This “nudging” is effective at altering behaviour; for example, integrating text messaging in smoking cessation programmes improved six-month cessation rates by 71% compared to the regular treatment .
However, work remains to be done before apps can integrate with insurer’s processes. The confidentiality and use of personal data generated and stored by apps is complicated and needs clarification. The accuracy and sufficiency of information is a potential concern while hardware constraints may limit potential. More evaluation of the impact of digital technology is needed in research and clinical practice. 
Meanwhile, insurers could engage with emerging providers of software solutions. Services like these will, over a relatively short time horizon, become highly influential in the lives of people living with mental health problems. Pilot schemes that compare current insurance methods while evaluating new ones would take us one big step forward.
Click on the links to learn more about the Monsenso mHealth solution mental health consisting on a smartphone app for individuals, carers and a web portal for clinicians.
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