Useful Psychiatry Apps

Will your smartphone become an adjunct to your psychiatry practice? In the last few years, the number of mobile apps for health and wellness has grown dramatically, including those for mental health.

There were 16,275 apps directly related to patient health and treatment available in the Apple iTunes store as of October 2013, according to an IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics report. Overall, the total number of available healthcare apps was 23,682.

Mobile health apps are expected to move from novel to mainstream by the end of the decade, according to Murray Aitken, the institute’s executive director.

These tools are poised to change how healthcare is delivered, shifting the way patients and providers engage with one another.

More Apps Than Ever, But Not All Clinically Validated

With so many healthcare apps in the works, it’s difficult to foresee what role they will play in the future, according to Steven Chan, MD, a resident physician in psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California Davis.

There are at least two good uses for apps — as educational tools and as vehicles for teletherapy via videoconferencing, Chan said.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) app is an example of a great reference tool for healthcare providers.

“With this app, psychiatrists don’t have to flip through pages of a book,” Chan said. “They can quickly look up what they need on their phone.”

In addition to reference apps, teletherapy apps are useful for patients who cannot get to a therapist’s office.

There are even apps to help psychiatrists and patients manage everything from depression to panic disorders, though Chan expressed concern that these have not been clinically validated.

“There’s no certification body and no way to regulate apps for clinicians and patients and that can be a problem,” he said.  

“[A]pps for healthcare are a good thing if they inform the patient and help in decision-making,” said John Luo, MD, the associate director of psychiatry residency training at the University of California Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and a past president of the American Association for Technology in Psychiatry.

However, just as with information on the Internet, caveat emptor [buyer beware] is a guiding principle.

Fortunately, Luo shared his top five mental health apps with Psychiatry Advisor.

Top 5 Mental Health Apps

1. Psych on Demand provides access to 20 commonly used psychiatric forms to monitor and diagnose psychiatric conditions, and was developed by William Lemley, MD, and psychiatry resident at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Users can email copies of psychiatric forms to their patients, and include the copies in electronic health records (EHRs). Although it’s handy to be able to email the forms, Luo worries about a lack of confidentiality. Cost: $0.99

2. Optimism helps patients log their mood, sleep, exercise, and diet — charting the information over time and displaying it in graphic format. 

“One caveat is that the rating scales from 0 to 10 are rudimentary,” Luo cautioned. “For example, a 10 on anxiety is defined as ‘overwhelming anxiety that feels like you are going to die.’” 

Again he likes the capability to email results, but is concerned about confidentiality. Cost: Free

3. DSM-5 provides digital access to the official criteria for psychiatric diagnoses published in hardbound by the American Psychiatric Association.

“It looks like there are only criteria, not the full text of the DSM-5,” Luo said. “It appears it is useless without WiFi access.” Cost: $69.00

4. Cloud 9, currently in testing and not yet available, proposes to make the process of finding a therapist easy using the video capabilities on smartphones and tablets to schedule virtual visits with therapists.

The main advantage is that it allows patients to schedule appointments that synch with the therapist’s schedule. 

“I am a bit skeptical of its claim to match a therapist to a patient based on certain parameters,” Luo said. “To me, it seems like online dating, and you never find the perfect match just based on criteria.” Cost: Free

5. Psychiatry-Neurology Pro enables doctors to share clinical history, patient information, and images of the brain with their patients. 

This app is better for tablets than smartphones. Clinicians may find it a handy resource to store patient findings. However, Luo is concerned that the app has not been updated in more than a year. Cost: Free

A final word: Don’t let the expense fool you. “Just because [an app] costs a lot, doesn’t mean it will be helpful,” Luo said.

Beth W. Orenstein is a full-time freelance writer based in Northampton, Pennsylvania.

This article was medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MS, MPH.