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APA sharpens focus on practice innovation, digital therapeutics

Newly formed Office of Health Care Innovation will focus on using measurement-based care and technology to improve service delivery.

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American Psychological Association. (2021, March 4). APA sharpens focus on practice innovation, digital therapeutics.

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The American Psychological Association announces the formation of the Office of Health Care Innovation (OHCI) that will work on developing strategies that leverage technology and data to address crucial societal issues such as increasing access, measuring care, and optimizing treatment delivery at both the individual and system levels.

“The healthcare landscape was changing in significant ways prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pace of change has only quickened as psychologists shifted to telehealth,” said Jared L. Skillings, PhD, ABPP, APA’s chief of professional practice. “APA is committed to being on the leading edge of practice innovation, including advocacy, education, and resources to support psychologists as practice evolves.”

This increased focus on health care innovation supports the association’s strategic plan by:

  • helping to prepare the discipline and profession of psychology for the future as health care increasingly moves toward incorporating technology;
  • working to make a positive impact on critical societal issues by increasing access to quality care; and
  • strengthening APA’s standing as an authoritative voice for psychology and the psychological science that is often the underpinning for mental health digital therapeutics and other technology-based interventions.

OHCI has three primary initiatives: measurement-based care and the APA Mental and Behavioral Health Registry; telehealth and the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT); and digital therapeutics and mental health technology. 

The office will be led by C. Vaile Wright, PhD, who moves into the role of senior director. Wright also serves as a spokesperson for APA, having been interviewed by television, radio, print, and online media including the Today Show, CNN, The Washington Post, and NPR on a range of topics such as telehealth and technology, stress, discrimination and harassment, serious mental illness, and access to mental health care. She received her doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2007, and is licensed in the District of Columbia.

OHCI houses team to address digital therapeutics

Growing interest in digital therapeutics, including those for mental and behavioral health, make this a priority issue for APA.

“Mental health digital therapeutics involve the use of software programs to deliver evidence-based and validated interventions to treat or manage mental and behavioral health disorders, such as chronic insomnia and substance use disorders. They are used independently or in concert with medications, devices, or other therapies to optimize patient care and health outcomes,” says Wright. “Digital therapeutics are not typically direct-to-consumer mental health apps you can download, but instead are regulated by entities such as the Food and Drug Administration and are prescribed by providers for patients to use.”

Digital therapeutics offer significant opportunities for patients and psychologists including increased access and options for care and the ability to extend the reach of evidence-based mental and behavioral health treatments. There is potential, however, for unintended consequences in the rapid way that these tools are rolling out and being regulated.

For example, FDA’s prescription-only medical model would exclude psychologists and most other mental health providers from assessing and using digital therapeutics. And traditional payment approaches are not designed for digital therapeutics.

The digital therapeutics team at APA, led by Wright, includes:

  • Nicole Owings-Fonner, MA—director of Operations and Innovation
  • Deborah Baker, JD—director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs
  • Stephen Gillaspy, PhD—senior director of Health Care Financing
  • Laurel Stine, JD—senior director of Congressional and Federal Advocacy

Together, they are developing a strategic approach for digital therapeutics in psychological care (PDF, 97KB), including efforts around reimbursement, regulations, education, and marketplace advocacy.

To contact the office, send an email to the Office of Health Care Innovation.