In our growing digital world, we are continuing to see an increased need for virtual digital health platforms that provide interventions, build community, and support crisis response. Various organizations are developing programs aimed to lift healthcare completely into the virtual world, thereby increasing accessibility and promoting positive well-being. Through virtual platforms like the Crisis Text Line or Man Therapy, we are beginning to truly understand the vast positive impact that digital health response platforms and interventions can have on our world.
However, as we build these platforms, we must keep safety at the forefront. Building a platform is important, but ensuring that the platform is ethical, secure, and helpful. As digital healthcare providers, we understand that consumer safety is at the forefront of our work. Creating new digital health response interventions is the future of virtual healthcare, but as we develop these products, we must understand the requirements of consumer care and safety.
Transparency on Offerings
We live in a world where there is an abundance of information, but a lack of transparency. When developing digital health products, it is important that the consumer understands what they are choosing to get involved with, who will have access to their information, and how their information will be used. This level of transparency amounts to a level of trust, further allowing the consumer to fully utilize the service or intervention. Similar to traditional healthcare visits, if the consumer or patient cannot trust the healthcare provider, they will not be able to fully take advantage of all resources and products available. This idea shows up in even ensuring that the service the organization offers is explicit in the name or heading of the organization.
Digital health products should go beyond a five-page Terms & Conditions, but employ an “informed consent” mentality for their offerings. Rather than listing their privacy and confidentiality regulations in a large document on the website, the company should ensure that they use simple language to clearly dictate exactly what they offer and who has access to consumer information.
Trained Crisis Response
With many online services providing their version of crisis response, what’s interesting is that there is no streamlined training or certification for crisis counselors. Most volunteer-supported online crisis or intervention services have their own training for volunteers, filled with the steps created by the organization itself. Until we have a streamlined curriculum widely available, virtual digital health interventions must ensure a properly trained and implemented crisis response plan for when consumers indicate an intent to harm themselves or others.
Even with anonymous and confidential services, there must be a plan in place for those intended to harm themselves or others. As in healthcare settings, this would be the only point where there may be a break in confidentiality in order to protect the individual’s safety. The crisis response itself would depend on the digital health organization itself, but some plan needs to be in place to keep safety at the forefront.
Trained Mental Health Professionals in Development
The previous idea goes hand-in-hand with this one, where mental health professionals need to be at every step, helping to develop these digital health interventions. Those with a strong psychology, counseling, or clinical research background must be involved in creating and implementing the product, developing the crisis response plan, and ensuring fidelity throughout dissemination. Constant review of the product must be done by those who are trained in psychological science or a related field. We go back to safety being the primary goal of any digital health response, and mental health professionals are trained to evaluate and respond to mental health crises.
Regular Feedback from Users
As with any consumer product, we need regular feedback from users. It’s important to know what the consumer is looking for, what they think about the product, and what improvements they want to see. For one, it helps from a business development perspective, as happy consumers continue to use the product. From a mental health intervention lens, if the product is effective for its users, we want the consumer to continue to use the product and gain benefits from the product.
The world is coming up with bright and new digital health response interventions, but there is limited regulation in this sector. By ensuring some of these core components, we can create a digital health world that is better and safer for all.