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Using technology to bridge the gap in mental health

November 14, 2014
by Julia Brown
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Online cognitive behavioral therapy is being used to treat patients with depression, and data shows that it can be just as effective as traditional office-based treatment.

A randomized control study looking at efficacy and productivity gains associated with online cognitive behavioral therapy programs addressing depression indicated a significant improvement with 70 percent of users moving below the threshold of clinical depression symptoms (<14) on the Beck Depression Inventory, while non-users showed no significant improvements.

Results also showed that six times as many patients were able to be treated online with similar or same results as individuals treated in traditional office-based settings.

The study was conducted by SilverCloud Health, a provider of online behavioral and mental health wellness solutions; Aware, an Irish depression advocacy organization; and The Trinity College of Dublin School of Psychology, Dublin, Ireland.

“These online psycho-educational programs have shown to help patients create positive practices that provide benefit before, between and after face-to-face interventions,” says Derek Richards, PhD, director of clinical research and innovation at SilverCloud Health and a research fellow at School of Psychology, Trinity College of Dublin. “Therefore, innovative uses of information technology paired with empirically-based interventions provide a strong degree of confidence for clinicians and patients as they make decisions regarding different treatment pathways.”

Federal and state-based reforms, as well as the Mental Health Equity and Addictions Parity Act, have increased reliance on behavioral health clinicians being able to provide more integrated care and decrease financial costs associated with mental and behavioral healthcare. Online therapy could be a method for easing the strain on providers—addressing treatment backlogs and patient waitlists, for example—while allowing them to cast a wider net of care.

Additionally, anyone discouraged from seeking a face-to-face intervention because of cost, access issues and personal stigmas could still have access to therapy.

“The growing demand for internet-based health and mental health related information and interventions means the provision of online interventions can meet a growing need in the marketplace, potentially reaching people who would never consider an office-based option,” Richards says. ”The burden that office-based treatments represent to some patients can be reduced or even overcome through the introduction of technology-driven interventions.”

While online therapy could serve as a bridge between primary care or specialty practices and treatment by a behavioral healthcare clinician, it could also act as a low-intensity care supplement alongside high-intensity, face-to-face interventions.

“The two concurrent approaches offer the potential to create individualized care plans for each person experiencing mental or behavioral health challenges by enabling clinicians to determine the optimum care pathway for individual patients as determined by the severity and complexity of issues to be addressed,” Richards says.