Apps in daily practice

A handful of examples illustrates how apps can be used as clinical tools and for professional tasks.

The worldwide introduction of the smartphone launched the rapid innovation of mobile applications (apps). According to the Pew Research Internet Project, as of 2014, 64 percent of American adults own a smartphone, 32 percent own an e-reader and 42 percent own a tablet computer. With well over 1.5 million apps available across the digital marketplaces (such as Google Play, iTunes, Windows, etc.), these devices are shaping the day-to-day life of users. 

A multitude of mobile apps are specifically targeted to assist individuals with managing health and wellness. Other apps are marketed to health care providers as tools to improve and facilitate the delivery of patient care. This growing trend presents new opportunities for psychologists to connect with patients through mobile apps in ways that could supplement the therapeutic relationship and provide additional support to patients. 

This article highlights a handful of apps that can be used for your practice and with patients as an adjunct to treatment. Given the easy accessibility of mental health and wellness apps, providers should be aware of and educate themselves about the potential benefits and risks involved in using such apps. This brief article touches on several important considerations.

Apps for use as clinical tools 

Certain apps have been developed for use in conjunction with therapy or treatment with a medical or mental health professional. Two examples that are available for all operating systems are What’s Up? and Mentegram. Importantly these apps should only be used as an adjunct to psychotherapy and do not supplant face-to-face meetings with a mental health provider. 

  • What’s Up?, developed by Jackson Tempra, is a free app that utilizes CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) methods to help users cope with depression, anxiety, anger, stress, self-esteem and more. This app features sections that allow the user to note self-identified positive and negative habits and to track daily experiences via a diary function. Tools that target cognitive reframing and development of positive coping strategies are also included. Additionally, the app provides resources and tools to enhance psycho-education. 
  • Mentegram is an app designed for use by health care, human services and research professionals. This app is HIPAA-compliant and allows for storing treatment plans, individualized questionnaires, treatment monitoring and more. This platform allows for the clinician to assign homework and review it upon completion. Practitioners can use this app to enhance the therapeutic relationship and treatment adherence. Although the app is free to download, in-app charges may apply. (Some apps offer additional content or services for purchase within the app). Feasibility of associated cost should be assessed before you use such features.

Apps to facilitate professional tasks 

Practitioners can also utilize certain apps to stay current with trends and developments in professional practice. To assist with this task, developers have created apps that make it easier to use the impending ICD-10-CM codes, psycho-pharmaceutical classifications and new diagnostic criteria, for example. Two such apps available for both Apple and Android users are The DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria Mobile App and ICD 10 (With 2013 CM and PCS) App.

  • The DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria App provides mental health practitioners, researchers and students fast access to DSM criteria so they can fully integrate the content into their practice and study. Users have complete offline access to all of the diagnostic criteria as well as online access to supporting videos, commentary and resources. Search and customization tools aid and enhance assessment of symptom presentations in a variety of clinical settings. This app costs $69.99 to download.
  • ICD 10 (With 2013 CM and PCS), developed by TVN Labs, includes offline access, ability to email articles, print bookmarks and a code description list. This app is available for just 99 cents and updates are free. Also, though not a mobile app, members of the American Psychological Association Practice Organization (APAPO) have access to a Web-based application free of charge that provides information about the ICD-10-CM, featuring diagnostic codes for Chapter 5. Users are able to navigate content by searching for key words, browsing a list of featured ICD-10-CM diagnoses or exploring several graphical interfaces. Members can use the application by logging in at MyAPA and going to “Practice Tools.”

Additionally, the American Psychological Association (APA) has developed a number of apps that help practitioners access useful research, journals, articles and ICD-10-CM coding tools. 

Plugging in to the evolving world of apps 

The use of behavioral health applications as an adjunct to therapy is an emerging field, and there are limited resources that detail the app development and validation processes. Research is being conducted to address concerns surrounding the clinical use of mental health apps. 

Meanwhile, it is important that practitioners consider the implications of using such technology in their practice. Practitioners can consult with colleagues, read relevant research about mobile applications and therapy (see the Clinical Trials website), and research different apps available through app stores to determine if they would be appropriate for you or your patient.

For more information on mobile apps, including privacy and security, and types of apps to consider, see “The New World of Apps” (PDF, 350KB) in the Winter 2015 issue of Good Practice magazine.

Please note: The service providers and products mentioned in this article are provided simply as examples and do not constitute endorsements by the APA Practice Organization. Other available similar products and services are not identified in this article.