Unprecedented global lockdowns, such as the current one during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, can be scary and can affect our mental health. There are also many things we can do to support and manage our wellbeing during such times, and technology comes to the rescue. When a doctor is out of reach, mobile applications prove to be especially helpful.
The number of mobile health (mHealth) apps focused on mental health has increased most rapidly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As mental health apps are increasingly prescribed to supplement psychiatric treatment and help patients self-manage their mental health conditions, it is key to understand what makes a mental health app effective — and how to design such an app for the mental health app startup.
Smartphone-based mental health apps offer a unique opportunity to improve the availability and quality of mental health treatment. But do they really work? Let’s take a look at the scientific evidence.
The 2018 study examined the efficiency of mental health mobile apps compared to traditional psychiatric treatment for depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. “Mobile apps have significant potential to deliver high-efficacy mental health interventions,” scientists wrote, especially considering the “global shortage of psychiatrists and the lack of mental health care access in rural regions.” But the success of your mental health app depends not only on the design but also on the flawless execution. Let’s dig deeper.
What mental health apps do?
In general, mental health apps are broken into 8 categories based on functionality:
– Self-management of mental health condition
– Cognition improvement
– Communication skills improvement and building relationships
– Social and coping skills training
– Social support and communication with communities and individuals
– Symptom tracking and reporting
– Passive data collection
– For the use of mental health professionals to help their patients
The category of the app defines which features the mental health apps should have. Here are the most important features of mental health apps.
What core features should mental health apps have?
Unlike many app categories, planning mental health app features requires a good deal of preparation. Many ethical apps will clearly document the research supporting their functionality and use cases based on direct or indirect research support. Consider doing the same or leave that to the experienced and responsible application developer.
When you think about essential and nice-to-have features to include in your mental health app, you should break them into two distinct categories.
For the patient:
Emergency connection: During the lockdown, Telehealth is gaining the ultimate importance. That’s why video calls may be the only communication option for patients with their therapists. Make sure that the video calling option is hassle-free and doesn’t create additional stress or require a complicated sequence of actions from the patient.
Self-monitoring options: The patients need to be able to effortlessly track their treatment progress using charts or other metrics that they may wish to share with their therapists.
Community and personal connections: No one suffers more from isolation than a person with a mental health disorder. That’s why patients need to be able to access a community or individuals to share and connect with. While some people tend to hide their condition from family and friends, for others belonging to a community is part of the therapy.
Privacy and personal information storage: GDPR and other personal data protection legislation acts make patients very concerned about the safety of their data. Your app should clearly outline which measures you take to safeguard the patient data, even after the account has been deleted.
When designing the patient-facing side of the mental health application, it’s important to keep in mind that gentle is the only way to go. Keep your mental health app design and user interface free from irritating or overtly pushing features. Popup windows, contrasting drop-down menus, bright colors, or annoying notifications will only result in the rapid churn of your app.
For the mental health therapist:
Therapy dashboard: The time-strapped therapist should clearly see the snapshot of the sessions for the week and day, as well as any urgent issues that require their attention.
Notifications: Receiving timely reminders about sessions, incoming messages, and other essential issues is crucially important. Your responsibility as an app developer is to ensure that all patient communication is secured while all sensitive information has been hidden.
Payment options: Equally important both for the patient’s convenience and for caregiver’s accounts, payment management should be straightforward and compliant both with insurance policies and online payment best practices.
Patient communication: Consider adding multiple options for effortless communication with patients, including live chat, video and audio calls, 24/7 support. Your app should clearly inform both patients and their supporting family members about your working hours and out-of-hours availability.
Among other important features that you may consider adding to your app is the ability to create tests and questionnaires, as well as journalling functionality both for the therapist and the patient. The scope of features affects the cost of developing an app. Also, the choice of the platform for your app can make a difference. A mental health app for Android will have a different list of features compared to the mental health app designed with Apple Watch in mind.
How long does it take to deploy the app?
The time frame depends on the number of features you have in mind as well as the collaboration model you employ. If you are launching an app in collaboration with a third-party practice or a larger medical institution, you should account for delays required to reach all-around compliance. On average, you can expect an app to be ready in 2 months.
Will the lockdown still be in place, you may ask? Even if the vaccine has been found effective, the rollout will take at least a few months. Many experts agree that the COVID-related restrictions will be in place for the most part of 2021. But regardless of the pandemic, the demand for mental care remote support is not showing signs of slowing down.
How much does it cost to develop? The most common collaboration model based on hourly rates is called the Time and Materials model. Under this model, you pay for the hours spent building your mobile application based on your specifications. The hourly rate greatly depends on the location of hired mental health app developers. For example:
- In the US, app developers charge from $50 to $250 an hour.
- The average hourly rate for web development in Australia is $50 to $150.
- Agencies in Western Europe and the UK provide their services at $35 to $170 per hour.
- Eastern European developers charge $20 to $150 per hour.
- Indian companies charge from $10 to $80 an hour.
- Anadea rates start with 35$
The benefit of this model is its flexibility which allows you to make improvements to your app along the way. You can choose what tasks your developers should prioritize and what features to cut to reduce the cost of development of your mental Telehealth health services. On average, the development of a mental health app from start to finish will cost around $30,000. But many projects start with MVP which is lower in costs.
Over the last year, people have become more aware of the importance of mental health care, mostly due to disrupting events such as quarantines, loss of employment, and imminent physical health threats from the COVID-19 virus. But living in a technological era comes with a lot of advantages. Mental health-focused mobile applications are helping to change the scenario and make mental health monitoring and advice more timely and affordable.