Thursday, July 11, 2013

New Smartphone Apps for Mental Health

There has been a wave of new medical smartphone apps released recently, designed for purposes from electronic health records management to patient self-diagnosis. Going forward, the Boston Globe is reporting that developers are testing the waters with apps that are designed for treatment, especially designed around mental health.

So far, most of the apps released have been games that are largely focused on the ability to be mindful, aware, and alert. One game called “Project Eco” allows players to explore new worlds with the goal of helping to sharpen cognitive functions, including being more mindful and engaged. The game simultaneously rewards players by having them collect stars, gems, and alien specimens as they play, enticing them to play again.

In another game, called “DepressionQuest,” players click through the deeply realistic narrative of a first-person character, making choices for the character about work, friends, and family. The game shows options for dealing with depression, such as seeking therapy, medication, or reaching out to friends. Still other games keep track of a player’s attention span, reaction times, and decisions to assist in diagnosis.

Developers hope that these apps might one day supplement therapy and support groups by putting mental health care into patients’ homes or pockets.

But not all psychologists are accepting the new diagnostic and support tools. Critics point out that most of the games haven’t gone through rigorous testing to see whether they work, or whether they might inadvertently harm patients. They also say that the makers aren’t yet allowed to make health claims for their products.

Drugs must be approved by the federal government and states license many therapists, but games are unregulated.  According to a spokeswoman, the US Food and Drug Administration plans to require approval for only a small subset of Web or mobile medical apps that may present potential harm to consumers.

Still, as NAHAM News reported last month (The Wave of Smartphone EHR Apps), the medical app trend doesn’t seem to be subsiding any time soon.

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