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Stanford University School of Medicine

Talk to your patients about “digital supplements,” physicians urge

smartphone-1184865_1280-2Mental health apps — aimed at everyone from those feeling a bit blue to patients suffering from lifelong bipolar disorder — abound. But their quality varies widely.

That's why it's increasingly important for physicians to talk to their patients about the pros and cons of various digital tools, three psychiatrists who specialize in digital health wrote in Psychiatric News recently:

We recommend questions such as the following:

  • Do you use a smartphone?
  • Are you willing to use a smartphone to manage your health?
  • How do you look up health information on your smartphone?
  • What apps do you use for health and fitness?
  • How do you choose which apps to use?

Psychiatrists can then help patients evaluate whether a certain app appears useful or safe or—at worst—may be dangerous and offer concerning advice.

Some apps may also lack adequate security protections, leaving patients' personal data exposed, the physicians write.

Although there is no standardized way to evaluate apps, they offer a framework known by the acronym ASPECT, that reminds physicians and patients to check if the app provides actionable data that will improve care, keeps data secure, meets professional standards, is based on evidence, can be customized to treat individual patients and is transparent in its use of data. They conclude:

As psychiatry continues to study apps—and clinical studies yield more results—it will be possible to evaluate apps with more certainty. Until then, psychiatrists should find it useful to assess patients’ technology literacy—much as they do when assessing social and economic factors...

Previously: Smartphone app detects changes in mental health patients' behavioral patterns in real time and Integrating digital literacy into medical education
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