Smartphone Mental Health Apps Lack Diverse Features, Consistent Privacy Settings

Windows Phone Mental Health Apps Don't Have Diverse Features, Still Privacy Settings

Despite the abundance of mental health smartphone applications available to consumers, the current market is limited in its features and ability to ensure consumer/patient privacy, according to observations.

In new data from a team of investigators at the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, mental health applications on smartphone app markets offer psychological education, goal setting and mental function and mood—but not usually other areas of the mind. health care. What’s more, the researchers found no correlation between high user ratings in the app market and mention of privacy settings on those apps.

Led by Erica Camacho, MS, researchers sought to analyze the mental health apps currently available and their relationship to privacy concerns and popularity among users, and what their offerings are about the status of consumer-level mental health care options today. As they noted, the COVID-19 pandemic and public health policies and responses have increased reliance on digital mental health options. Currently, there are >10,000 mental health related apps on the smartphone market today.

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“As more and more public work has exposed flaws in many popular mental health programs and called for stronger demands for evidence, it remains unclear whether this has happened. changes in mental health programs may be most people. downloading from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store,” they wrote. “So, we assessed whether there is a relationship between popular measures and indicators of mental health issues.”

The team conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 578 mental health rehabilitation programs through the M-Health Index and Navigation Database (MIND); The apps are designed to treat and help patients with various conditions including depression, schizophrenia, sleep and eating disorders, and more.

App users were asked to rate each app based on 6 criteria:

  • App origin and accessibility
  • Privacy and security
  • The clinical setting
  • Features and installation
  • Inputs and outputs

Reviewers used MIND’s 5 criteria to determine an app’s privacy score, including whether the app has a policy, disclosure of security measures, disclosure of data usage and purpose, and can deleting data and allowing users to opt out of data collection. They measured the correlations between privacy scores and popularity metrics—per star rating and number of downloads—for each app.

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578 apps were analyzed across 105 dimensions of MIND. Camacho and colleagues found cognitive training (41%), goal setting and habit formation (38%), and mindfulness (38%) to be the main features of the app. The least common of the app’s features are biometrics based on mobile data (1%), Acceptance and Compliance (2%), and Mobile Behavioral Recovery (2%).

Only 3 in 10 (30%) of the apps allow users to send emails and export their data. Common input methods include surveys, log files, and internal microphones.

Common conditions that require mental health treatment include substance abuse related to smoking or tobacco (33%), stress and anxiety (28%), and anxiety disorders (20%). Only 13 (2%) apps were designed to address schizophrenia.

The researchers found a privacy policy among 77% of installed mental health apps. No significant correlation was found between high privacy scores and popularity per Apple App Store or Google Play Store star ratings. However, private accounts correlate well with app download statistics on the Google Play Store.

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Camacho and colleagues concluded that, despite the high demand for remote mental health care, smartphone app markets “do not differentiate their offerings and do not implement the most powerful features.”

“Another challenge in the app space is that simple metrics like star ratings don’t take privacy rights into account,” they wrote. “Therefore, doctors and patients need to know applications in addition to these methods to ensure that they find apps that match their specific needs and care for their purposes. Application libraries are available at Public and official application evaluation frameworks such as MIND are innovative tools to support users in application selection.”

The study, “Evaluation of Mental Health Services Available Through Smartphone Applications,” was published online at JAMA Open Network.


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