September 16, 2015

Digital Health Innovating Behavioral Healthcare

Marcia Noyes
Marcia Noyes

Datica Alumni — Former Director of Communications

In a digitally interconnected world, people with behavioral health conditions consult their technologies long before approaching healthcare providers for further diagnosis and treatment. What would be the benefit in approaching a healthcare provider immediately anyways? Behavioral healthcare is insufficient in assisting diagnosis, overseeing treatment response, and evaluating disease acuity. In contrast to other healthcare fields, psychiatric care is founded on a conversational Q&A model, rather than physical exams, clinical trials, or laboratory testing.

As a result, behavioral healthcare is a rapidly growing, but often a neglected sector in the healthcare industry. This specialty presents both many opportunities and challenges; inadequate funding being one of those challenges. Sadly, behavioral healthcare remains the proverbial stepchild, never seeing the therapeutic breakthroughs or innovation necessary to be in the spotlight. However, the opportunities remain. The health economic burden is massive and the life expectancy of patients is considerably less, due to their conditions being difficult to treat, an overwhelming challenge in patient monitoring and overall subpar patient care. Innovative behavioral health technologies have a great opportunity to contribute to change in this area.

With the Web being accessible from nearly all handheld devices, patients are turning to tablets and smartphones in search of further healthcare information, to connect with online support communities and to discover possible treatment options. Digital health technologies are offering the ability for fiscally effective, long-term remote monitoring of patients with mental health issues. New mobile applications and Web portals are enabling patients and caretakers to gauge and communicate status updates to the care team on a regular basis from wherever the patient may reside, enabling telehealth assessments and therapeutic interventions.

One application that is successfully connecting and innovating behavioral healthcare is This application takes a look at statistics and mobile usage patterns to map regular behavior to convert into insights about managing personal health. Always running in the background, the app monitors call and text activity, as well as location and movement in the most general sense. To be more specific, the app will not track if you are at the beach or calling your sister, but will rather determine if you have remained in one location all day or have disregarded contact with others. By analyzing these general behavioral patterns, can notify the user if unusual activity or a disruption occurs in regular behavior and relates what next actions to consider.

Other behavioral heatlhcare apps to check out that are furthering innovation:

  • Lantern is a web and mobile based platform that combines cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques with advice from real experts. Users start by taking an assessment test to determine their strengths and weaknesses in five areas: body, stress/anxiety, mood, sleep, and social life. Lantern provides daily exercises tailored to suit users’ needs based on the results of their assessment. Each user is also matched with a professional coach trained in CBT who can provide feedback and answer any questions.
  • Optimism is a family of applications that focuses on self-tracking as a tool for coping with mental illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD. The app helps users detect patterns in their mood, creating a way to identify triggers and other things that affect their mental health. Users can create a customizable wellness plan to chart their coping mechanisms, and this can be updated as they come to have a deeper understanding of what they need to tackle for their mental illness.
  • TalkSpace seeks to make therapy more available by connecting users with one of more 200 licensed therapists via messaging. With a subscription to Talkspace, users get matched to a therapist to chat with at any time.
  • Big White Wall is a community application where people suffering from various mental illnesses can come together and talk about their problems with support from trained therapists. The app features discussion boards, reference articles, and self-assessment tests. Users can also register for online therapy programs. Big White Wall also lets users create a “brick, ” which is a collage of pictures and images meant to encourage users to express themselves. The program focuses on anonymity as a way for members to feel fewer stigmas about sharing their problems.
  • IntelliCare is a suite of apps created by researchers at Northwestern University to target symptoms of depression and anxiety. The apps were developed as part of a national research study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The suite includes the IntelliCare Hub app and 12 mini apps.

Know of any other innovative apps in the behavioral healthcare sector making a difference? Tweet us about them! Then check out what some of the most innovative healthcare industry leaders have to say in our annual Healthcare Innovation Series Report that covers 7 Big Ideas in healthcare.

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