Smartphone Mental Health Apps Lack Diverse Features, Consistent Privacy Settings

Smartphone mental health apps lack diverse features, consistent privacy settings.

Despite the abundance of mental health smartphone apps now available to consumers, the current market offers little variety in their features and, consequently, the ability to ensure user/patient privacy.

In new data from a team of investigators in the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, mental health apps on smartphone app marketplaces typically offer psychoeducation, goal-setting and mindfulness exercises and features. But more often than not other elements of mental health care. Furthermore, the investigators found no correlation between high app marketplace user ratings and explicit privacy settings on such apps.

Led by Erica Camacho, MS, investigators sought to analyze currently available mental health apps and their association with privacy scores and popularity among users, as well as their offerings for consumer-level mental telehealth today. How do care options affect status? As he noted, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent policy and public health responses have increased reliance on digital mental health care options. As such, there are currently more than 10,000 mental health apps on the smartphone market.

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“As there have been public efforts to expose privacy flaws in many popular mental health apps, and calls for apps to become more evidence-based, it remains unclear whether mental health There have been no changes to apps that most people can download from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store,” he wrote. “Thus, we assessed whether there is a relationship between popularity metrics and privacy scores of mental health apps.”

The team conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 578 mental health apps through the M-Health Index and Navigation Database (MIND). Included were apps designed to treat and support patients with a variety of conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, sleep and eating disorders.

Trainer raters were asked to evaluate each app based on 6 categories:

  • Origin and accessibility of the app
  • Privacy and security
  • Clinical Foundation
  • Features and engagement
  • Inputs and outputs

Investigators used 5 MIND criteria to determine app privacy scores, including whether the app has a policy, reporting security measures, disclosing data use and purpose, allowing users to delete data, and giving users access to data. Allowing Opting Out of Collection. They measured the correlation between privacy scores and popularity metrics — ratings per star and number of downloads — for each app.

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578 apps were analyzed across 105 dimensions of MIND. Camacho and colleagues saw psychoeducation (41%), goal setting and habit formation (38%), and mindfulness (38%) as salient features of the app. The least common app features were biofeedback derived from sensor data (1%), acceptance and commitment therapy (2%), and dialectical behavior therapy (2%).

Only 3 out of every 10 (30%) apps allowed users to email or export their data. Common input means include surveys, diary entries, and internal microphones.

The most common types of conditions that mental health apps were intended to treat were smoking or tobacco use (33%), stress and anxiety (28%), and non-serious mood disorders (20%). . Only 13 (2%) apps were created to address schizophrenia.

The investigators observed a privacy policy in 77 percent of the included mental health apps. They found no statistically significant relationship between high privacy scores and popularity in terms of star ratings in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. However, privacy scores were positively correlated with the number of app downloads on the Google Play Store.

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Camacho and colleagues concluded that, despite the current high demand for remote mental health care, smartphone app marketplaces “lack diversity in their offerings and potentially implement high-impact features.” fail to do.”

“Another challenge for the app space is that easily accessible metrics like star ratings fail to consider privacy capabilities,” he wrote. “Thus, clinicians and patients should consider apps beyond steps to ensure discovery of apps that meet their unique needs and protect their privacy. Publicly available app libraries and validation Developed app evaluation frameworks such as MIND are advanced tools to assist users in app selection.

The study, “Assessment of Mental Health Services Available through Smartphone Apps,” was published online. JAMA Network Open..

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