Mon, 25 Sep 2023

The online Therapy Industry Called into Question

25 Nov 2022, 02:42 GMT+10

If mental health issues are your worry, you are not struggling alone. While a recent poll by the American Psychological Association (APA) has shown a rise in demand for mental healthcare, the 2022 Covid-19 Practitioner Impact Survey reveals that 66% of people are now seeking treatment for stress, trauma and substance abuse rather than for anxiety and depression, which was the norm prevailing in the last three years.

In fact, nearly half the practitioners said they would be unable to handle the rise in demand for care and as many as 60% indicated that they could no longer see new patients. On an average psychologists reported being approached by fifteen new patients every week.

Two-thirds of the psychologists also predicted that the severity of symptoms will worsen in the patients in 2022. Substance abuse treatment demand will go up to 44% from 42% and trauma therapy demand will be at 64% from 62% reported in 2021.

The poll further revealed an alarming rise in the number of young people seeking healthcare, particularly in the adolescents aged 13-17 years, which psychologists said was 46% higher than the last twelve months.

Significantly, patients between 18-26(40%) and children under 18(38%) sought healthcare treatment during the same period. Even more and more healthcare providers are asking for treatment, reported 46% of the psychologists.

Arthur Evans, APA's CEO, stresses that timely access to treatment is critical for addressing those diagnosed with behavioral health challenges. In addition, expansion of the workforce, promoting integral behavioral health into primary care, improving mental health literacy and using technology to improve efficiency need to be implemented to successfully address health disparities.

Though the percentage of psychologists providing in-person treatment has risen from 4% to 11% after the pandemic, a decline in face-to-face interactions have been widely reported.

This means, telemedicine is still a viable option, as more than 58% of psychologists currently prefer to see patients both physically and virtually, while 31% prefer to see patients only through telehealth.

The APA on its part, is trying its best to push for increased insurance coverage and reimbursement at the same rate as in-person counseling, apart from expanding healthcare to patients from underserved populations and communities of color.

The majority of the psychologists (77%) reported that they could manage burnout by exercising self-care and maintaining the right work-life balance, while 63% sought peer support to help manage feeling burned out.

Mental health apps-for better or for worse

Mental health apps are again in the spotlight, but for wrong reasons. The APA reckons that there are nearly 20,000 apps available for download, but there is mounting evidence that user's privacy risks are being ignored, and no one bothers to check if these apps actually work.

In June 2022, three Democratic Senators asked executives of BetterHelp and Talkspace for additional information on how their mental health apps manage user data.

The lawmakers especially requested information on the relationship with online advertiser's, social media and data brokers and if this relationship was in the knowledge of the users.

These letters followed a few weeks after Mozilla revealed that most of the apps it examined, including BetterHelp and Talkspace, to check their privacy precautions, there were problems noticed when it came to safeguarding the privacy of the user.

Moreover, while the BetterHelp terms of service were last updated in 2016, none of this information appears on any of their videos that are sponsored by their app.

People on social media have claimed counselors do not show up for appointments and the company took money for the whole month even before their seven day free trial was up.

A 2021 Consumer Report showed that mental health apps do not always fall under the HIPAA, a federal law meant to protect the data collected by healthcare professionals. The report also revealed that both BetterHelp and Talkspace admitted to selling 'limited information' about their users to Facebook for targeted advertising.

Looking forward

Despite concerns about marketing and data security being raised from time to time, mental health platforms are continuing to gain in prominence. In fact, the mental health care app market is poised to grow exponentially by 2027, which will then attract both therapists and users to log on even more frequently.

BestOnlineTherapy, a website dedicated to survey the online therapy field as a whole, has noted there is a distinct shift in the thinking of a person regarding mental health. Not only are companies implementing programs that offer app based telemedicine service, some are adding on-site mental health care facilities in their office spaces.

Looking ahead, it is almost certain that the smartphone which is in your pocket will define the future of the mental health apps industry. Now that telehealth has finally taken off, there is no question of it going back.

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