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Patients prefer DMHT to be ‘part of wider treatment package’, says report

Digital mental health technologies (DMHT) should be used as part of a wider treatment package alongside regular therapy sessions and/or prescribed medication, according to patients who took part in research commissioned by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

The research, carried out by Woodnewton, is part of a three-year project, funded by Wellcome, which aims to help design future regulatory and evaluation frameworks for the use of DMHT, such as mental health apps for mood tracking, sleep and relaxation and meditation.

Between November 2023 and January 2024, researchers held 28 focus groups and eight in-depth interviews with adult users of DMHT, and nine focus groups with children. In total 184 adult patients and 63 children took part in the study.

These were supported by desk research and interviews with 10 intermediaries who work with young people including social workers and special educational needs and disability leads.

The resulting report, ‘Digital mental health technology: User and public perspectives‘, published in April 2024, notes: “A common theme was that DMHT could be very helpful, but as a supplement not a replacement for other forms of treatment and support”.

Concerns were raised by some study participants that DMHT could be used to hide failings in the mental health care system.

The report states: “There were also some concerns about DMHT providing misleading information or diagnoses”, adding that “most people would not rely solely on DMHT to diagnose and the benefits of providing some useful information outweighs risk of misdiagnosis.”

It continues that there was “a clear majority” of respondents who felt that it would be a positive step if mental health teams were involved with the prescribing of DMHT.

“The key benefits are that DMHT would then be more likely to be integrated into their wider care; and the assumption that the specific product will have been checked or approved and will be more appropriate for them,” the report states.

Some study participants were deterred from using DMHT because of security concerns, but most said they would be willing to use them if they were properly reassured about data security.

Commenting on the Woodnewton report, Holly Coole, senior manager for digital mental health at the MHRA, said: “Patient, public and lived experience insights are a crucial element of the Wellcome funded digital mental health project and the Woodnewton report is just one mechanism that the project team have used to invite feedback on this topic.

“These insights provide the MHRA and NICE as the collaborative project partner, with opportunities to shape guidance and information that is then more effectively developed and appropriately disseminated.

“This ensures that stakeholders that would benefit from the information are targeted in ways most applicable to them.”

Another part of the project has mapped the landscape of available DMHT, their key characteristics and key challenges across the regulatory and evaluation pathway.

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