1. What is Mental Health Software?
The conversation around mental health has picked up fast in recent years. In this section, we talk about the way a software platform could address challenges in mental health and help both doctors and patients deliver and receive mental health care, respectively.
A mental health management system is an application used by mental health providers and related staff to manage the behaviour and health of their patients, provide support through easy access to behavioural health care, or even for general mental health management. The development of mental health management solutions requires a different approach from regular healthcare app development, as the needs and realities of mobile apps for mental health are unique.
The conservation around mental health was a difficult one, to begin with. A significant portion of people who needed emotional support and mental health assistance refused to seek help. But in recent times, a dedicated push by activists and leading celebrities have done a great deal to make it alright to talk about one’s struggles.
The discussion around one’s mental wellness is now out in the open. So much so that movies and TV shows have begun deliberately portraying it in a positive light. It is safe to say that the stigma around mental health has gone away for the most part.
Even though more people than ever before are aware of the importance of psychological wellbeing, it took a global pandemic for healthcare IT to catch up with it. The Covid-19 pandemic forced everybody indoors, and many people lost their jobs and livelihoods. It ended up exacerbating people’s psychological issues. However, an upside was that health tech was fast to cover mental health, and before long, numerous therapists had adopted telehealth-based platforms to help people cope.
Telehealth solutions have helped reduce the inequity surrounding mental healthcare. People no longer needed to travel to see a shrink, and they could connect with one right from their homes. The comfort and privacy of one’s home act as a catalyst to help people open up more.
2. Benefits of a Mental Health Management System
There are a number of advantages waiting around the corner for mental health experts who adopt a platform for their practice. This part talks about the ways in which a digital solution for mental health management would help providers deliver better care and minimize overhead.
A mental health management system or platform helps the relevant doctors manage their practice better. A platform like this helps streamline workflows and improve the efficiency of day-to-day office administration. Let’s look at some of the more obvious benefits of a platform to manage mental health –
1. Lower Time & Costs
Applications for mental health management streamline and digitize workflows, removing the conventional way of doing things by pen and paper. Doing so reduces the staffing requirements for practices and hospitals since patients can book appointments themselves and reschedule them according to their convenience.
A staff member no longer needs to be on the phone to receive calls from patients, write things down or organize them. The patients can make appointments at any time, even if it’s in the middle of the night. The doctors can view the schedule on their devices and run things without hassles. The result is time and money saved in managing things.
2. Greater Transparency
A digital platform for mental health management acts as a central repository for patients’ health data. A mental health EMR integrated with the system allows doctors to pull up patient details while conducting a virtual consultation, deliver therapy and make relevant updates to patient history. The patients can view their medical history on the mental health management platform and participate better in their care journey. This feature offers transparency and, in turn, increases accountability for doctors.
3. Superior Response to Emergencies
Since a mental health management system helps organize patient data in one easily accessible place, it better equips healthcare providers to respond to emergencies. Some examples of such eventualities include psychotic breakdowns, epilepsy episodes, fits, seizures, and other mental health emergencies. When doctors can access such a patient’s health data, they will be better positioned to respond to such an incident and implement treatments.
In addition to being better equipped to handle emergencies, a centralized repository of patient data also enables healthcare analytics solutions and medical informatics systems to assess health information and discern early warning signs of impending disease. Such an approach is proactive rather than reactive, and it helps identify patients with higher risk and implement interventional measures before any emergency.
4. Greater Clinical Efficiency
Whether it’s a large hospital with many services or a small practice with a few physicians, a digital platform is known to improve the efficiency of day-to-day non-medical activities. Managing mental health also helps streamline activities like patient scheduling, medical coding, insurance verification, medical claims submission, etc. Moreover, these workflows can be handled with a few clicks on the platform.
The best part? A digital interface that automates many activities minimizes human error, improving productivity. To sum it up, faster workflows, few errors, lesser staffing requirements directly translate into greater efficiency.
3. Important Features of a Mental Health System
With the increasing convergence of digital systems and healthcare, it might have gotten difficult for providers to know what to look for in a mental health application. This section lists some of the most important features that define a great platform.
Almost as many companies develop numerous mental health solutions. If you’re a mental health professional looking for a platform, it might overwhelm you since many options exist. But there are a few major features that you need to check for –
A. Appointment Reminders
Missed appointments are one of the biggest reasons for worsening health among people suffering from chronic illness. One missed consultation could mean psychological triggers remain unaddressed for patients struggling with mental health problems, resulting in potential nervous breakdowns.
A mental health management system with automated appointment reminders would notify patients when their appointment is approaching. Such notifications are usually in the form of alarms, messages, and even automated calls in some cases. This will ensure that all consultations are adhered to.
Appointment scheduling allows the patients to choose the timings as per their convenience. A mental health management system with an appointment booking feature allows people to book consultations with a few clicks, even in the middle of the night. What’s more, it also allows them to reschedule it if they think they won’t make it the first time. This takes all the hassles out of appointment booking.
Submitting claims is an elaborate and tedious effort that involves multiple steps. It is an error-prone process by nature, and its mistakes often result in delayed reimbursements. Worst case scenario, the provider might not get paid at all. A feature that streamlines the claims management procedure goes a long way in helping providers improve their revenues.
A mental health management system with a claims management feature would digitize the workflows. This results in healthcare automation and activities being done with a few clicks. As a result, there are fewer errors, and the claims submission gets done faster.
C. Tailored Treatment Plans To Suit Each Patient
A feature to help therapists curate unique treatment plans to suit individual patient needs is extremely coveted in mental healthcare management systems. Such a function helps doctors track their patients’ progress and make changes as they see fit.
Each patient is benefited from a well-planned, uniquely structured approach to their treatment. Since each patent’s needs are bound to be different, an individualized approach to treatment is known to produce better results than a generalized one. The result is a better patient experience coupled with superior clinical outcomes.
D. Electronic Medical Records
A digital EMR integrated within a solution to manage a mental health practice is a win-win for the doctors and the patients. Doctors can pull up patient health information during a therapy session, which would help them make informed treatment decisions. This feature is especially helpful in the case of remote, virtual consultations. When a doctor sees a patient through virtual means, it is enormously beneficial to have their medical records with a few clicks.
Easy access to patient information during a virtual consultation improves care delivery. Moreover, since the doctor can make necessary updates to patients’ records, it keeps their health data abreast of new developments. Doing so in real-time during or immediately after an online consultation pays off in the long run.
Electronic prescriptions or e-prescriptions within a solution for healthcare management simplify the workflows around medical prescriptions. Doctors can send each patient’s prescription to the pharmacy directly and avoid the hassles related to the legibility of handwritten notes. It makes it easier for pharmacy staff to hand out medications without ambiguity and speeds up workflows at pharmacies. The fear of losing a prescription or filling out an incorrect dosage is removed with an e-prescription feature, and it also eliminates any chances of medication fraud.
F. Initial Assessment
These are usually in the form of detailed or short questionnaires that need to be filled up before the consultation begins. An initial assessment helps doctors learn something about their patients before the session begins in a mental health application.
This function could save time for both doctors and patients with just a few minutes to answer some questions. It helps doctors get an understanding of the patients and so can set the tone for further interactions.
G. Medical Billing
Medical billing is a complicated procedure with numerous formalities. A mental health management solution that features a function for billing makes a huge difference for healthcare providers. Such a feature automates many mundane tasks such as medical coding, medical claims submission, verification, and so forth.
The workflows associated with billing tend to be error-prone by nature. If a mental health solution can digitize them, then a few staff can complete the tasks digitally and have the solution verify them. This minimizes mistakes, which in turn avoids delays or rejections in reimbursements. As a result, a medical billing feature within a mental health administration platform also helps improve revenue cycles for providers since they reduce staffing needs and help avoid mistakes.
H. Insurance Verification
This is an indispensable part of the healthcare process in the United States. Whether the organization is a large hospital, a smaller ambulatory care centre, or even a single-physician practice, verifying patients’ insurance shows what their health plan covers. A doctor can make an informed decision based on this information.
A function to verify insurance incorporated within a mental health management solution streamlines many processes involved in verification through automation. This directly translates into shorter waiting times for patients, resulting in a better patient experience. Since the process is digitized, it’s not prone to mistakes, which means it’s a win-win for both providers and patients.
I. Digital Diary
This feature of a mental health app allows patients to document their everyday experiences (as a part of their treatment plan) in a digital format for quick accessibility. This advanced medical mobile app development feature uses a health information management system to offer digital patient documentation records. Another significant feature of this form of healthcare app development services could involve voice recognition technology. The mental health app will allow patients to record daily voice notes into their digital diary for the doctor’s reference.
J. Advanced Practice Management Solutions
This feature within a mental health app involves the placement of agile staff and employee management. The operational procedures of the mental healthcare organization are automated, but also employee solutions – such as allocation of jobs, paperless systems, etc. Additionally, mental health systems can be powered with HMIS – health information management systems to offer intelligent analysis of patient data.
K. Self-monitoring Techniques
A health management system can be empowered with techniques for patients to monitor their symptoms and receive automated suggestions for self-help. This encourages patient empowerment with safe suggestions to manage their conditions during the interval between sessions. Another part of these mental health systems is connecting monitoring techniques with wearable devices to set off emergency alarms, monitor routine behaviour, and mental health fitness suggestions.
4. Teletherapy Vs. Traditional Therapy
The pandemic pushed many people to try out telemedicine, and unsurprisingly, both providers and patients have come to acknowledge the benefits of virtual consultations. In light of this, we weigh the benefits of in-person therapy with that of remote teletherapy and help you get a complete picture.
One of the miracles of telehealth is the ability to access medical help from any location, even if you’re travelling. This has shown enormous potential for reducing the inequity in healthcare as not all communities enjoy equal access to quality care. This inequity is perhaps most pressing in the area of mental health. The ratio of people to mental health experts is poor in the United States, and it means that people often have to endure long waiting times to get an appointment and drive long distances for it. Not surprisingly, many people don’t bother with the hassle and ignore the issues they struggle to cope with.
The United States is in the midst of an unspoken behavioural health crisis. The number of people addicted to alcohol and narcotics has reached record levels. In light of this, it has become extremely important to increase access to mental health for people all across the country. Telehealth has proven to be able to accomplish this feat. A mental health management application with a virtual therapy option would easily connect patients with psychologists from across the United States. This would drastically reduce waiting times, eliminate the need for people to travel, ensure that people in distant, rural communities can access competent therapy whenever they need it.
i. Limitations of traditional therapy:
While the conventional means of psychotherapy help people deal with their issues, it is unequal by its very nature. It’s easier to find mental health experts in urban locations, but not in small towns and rural places. As a result, these communities are grossly underserved and struggle to find help. People from such places almost always have to wait weeks, if not months, for a consultation and travel to the therapists’ location. For people who can’t drive or travel to different cities and states, seeking mental help becomes next to impossible.
ii. Teletherapy’s elegant solution:
The challenges in the traditional form of therapy can be addressed with telehealth solutions within mental health management systems. With telehealth, patients can have a virtual consultation with their therapists using nothing more than a smartphone and an internet connection. Psychotherapy over a video call can be had within the comfort and privacy of one’s home or a hotel room.
The best part about a remote video consultation is the benefit of care from any location, and patients no longer need to travel to a therapist’s office. Moreover, it is known that people generally don’t feel comfortable talking about deeply personal issues with therapists, and this is one of the biggest hurdles to addressing mental health challenges.
With remote therapy, people are significantly more likely to seek a professional. The privacy that one’s own home offers creates a more conducive environment for people to open up about mental health issues. This has proven to be a hidden benefit of teletherapy which was unforeseen even by experts. The beauty of remote video consultations is that people can get help even from thousands of miles away without needing to travel to the therapist’s office. This translates into shorter waiting times, greater access to professional help, and reduced inequity.
5. FAQs Surrounding Mental Health Systems
A digital solution to manage mental health is a novel idea. It’s natural to have questions about this technology, especially if you’re a provider. In this section, we address some of the most common questions about mental health management systems.
What are the primary considerations before building a health information management system? The first order of business is to identify the specific gap or advantage that the mental health app intends to fulfil. Keeping a close eye on the end-users needs and opinions will eventually determine the success of the medical mobile app development.
A. Should I opt for customizations?
Even though ready-made solutions may look like the easy choice, they will usually fall short of fulfilling the specific need of the healthcare organization in question. Customized mental health solutions for providers hold the possibility of offering need-specific features and can be tailor-made to fit the user’s preference.
B. Do I need to consider cross-device connectivity?
Opting for cross-device connectivity is always a better option since it allows usability and accessibility on mobile phones, desktops, laptops, etc. Healthcare organizations and patients can use the app with a fair amount of ease. Finally, allowing patients to access the app on wearable devices and mobile phones will allow them to use the system flexibly and holistically.
C. Are our cloud-based apps better than server-based solutions?
Even though most modern solutions are cloud-based, this question is relative to users’ needs. If the requirement is basic, then a server-based solution may suffice to fulfil the requirement. However, a cloud-based solution is preferable if the development requirement is for integrated solutions.
D. What is the security requirement in a mental health app?
A mental health solutions developer must take the development process with its due responsibilities. Data protection has essential security requirements, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for information sharing and electronic data exchange. Apart from this, developers must consider General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for EU-based users. For apps that deal with financial areas of mental health, developers can refer to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for a checklist on payment rules.
6. Best Practices for Developing Mental Health Systems
The trend of using mental health platforms to manage practices is steadily picking up. With the rapid adoption of a new piece of healthcare tech, it’s natural for companies in this sector to offer varying solutions. However, even as companies continue to get creative, there are a few practices that are agreed upon to be fair and ideal when it comes to mental health app development.
While there are numerous kinds of mental health systems made by many companies, a few ways of doing things are generally accepted as best practices. Let’s have a look at some of them –
I. Comprehensive Security
The security of a mental health system is paramount. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulation mandates a minimum level of security for organizations that handle patient data. If there is a loss or breach of data, and the company developing the solution violates HIPAA regulation, it may result in harsh penalties and even jail time.
Patients’ mental health information contains vital clues like the history of substance abuse, depression, neurosis, etc. This information enables psychiatrists to modify their approach to treating each patient. But if the information is lost or compromised in any way, it takes a toll on the treatment, which in turn affects the patients’ mental health. So, a mental health management system must have comprehensive security to protect patient history.
II. User-Friendly Interface
Health applications are bound to be used by people from all walks of life, and this means that not everyone would be technically savvy to explore the functionalities of a complicated app. For this reason, all kinds of health applications or platforms must feature a user-friendly interface, and mental health systems are no exception.
The different functionalities for managing mental health must not be difficult for users to navigate. To achieve this, development companies must invest extensive resources into testing and determining user experience with the application. This procedure alone could take months, but it is worth the time and resources. A well-designed application with a difficult interface would invariably lose its user base.
This is yet another important feature that is coveted amongst providers and patients. If mental health EMR can interoperate with other systems, retrieving patient data is simpler and hassle-free for doctors. Having accurate and up-to-date patient health information is vital for diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
When mental health management solutions can interoperate, it avoids data siloes. Healthcare Interoperability is one of the best things that healthcare app development companies can do. It directly impacts patients’ health and wellbeing, giving doctors a clear picture of a person’s present condition. Without interoperability, it becomes difficult and time-consuming for healthcare providers to get their hands on patient health records, due to which patients would have to endure long waiting times. It is a rule of thumb that healthcare platforms must feature interoperability.
Most users would switch between a laptop, a PC, and, most of all, a smartphone. A mental health platform would benefit its users greatly if it can be compatible with all three major hardware platforms, along with Android and iOS operating systems.
People are far more likely to book an appointment on their smartphones and then attend a virtual therapy session on their laptops, and it might change if they’re traveling. The same application that accepts appointment schedules would be used on a PC for doctors and medical staff, with online therapy sessions on another PC. In other words, the patients, clinical staff, and the doctors would likely use either Android or iOS smartphones, as well as Macs and Windows-based PCs.
In light of the varying hardware platform and software operating systems, it makes sense for developers of mental health solutions to make the application platform agnostic. Otherwise, it creates avoidable hurdles for all stakeholders, diminishing its popularity.
7. Steps to Develop an App for Counselling
Developing an application for psychological care is quite unlike building apps for other areas in healthcare and wellness. It’s got its own set of considerations since such solutions can have a long-term impact on a person’s life. We discuss the broad strokes of what goes into developing a mental health platform.
Although various developers offer many kinds of mental health management apps, there is a rather common underlying approach to developing the applications. It involves a few steps basic to developing mental health apps –
Step 1: Decide Upon the Target Users
Not every mental health app can target everything. In other words, developers of counselling apps need to know who they are creating the platform for. It could be an application to help people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, or just a platform to help people seek therapy, or even just a listing app to help people find therapists.
Whatever the use, each type of application is bound to have its targeted base of users. It is important to identify who the app is being built for. A grief counsellor would not help someone struggling to recover from substance abuse. Similarly, an application made for one type of patient wouldn’t be of use to another.
Step 2: Decide the Features and Create a Minimum Viable Product
Once the target users have been decided, next comes knowing what features to include. As mentioned earlier, mental health management platforms are built to serve a specific purpose. Suppose it’s a listing for searching therapists. In that case, it’s better to include a location-based search for the nearest professionals, coupled with appointment scheduling and rescheduling, not to mention easy online payment options.
On the other hand, if the application includes teletherapy, the company developing it would also need to make it healthcare interoperability with other third-party applications for billing, insurance verification, mental health EMR, appointment scheduling, and patient engagement systems.
After finalizing the features, it’s time to create a minimum viable product (MVP). It must be like a working prototype that will give a reliable idea about the application and highlight problems that can be fixed. It might take multiple iterations, but it’s worth the time and resources to create an MVP to give all stakeholders better clarity.
Step 3: Interoperability
As mentioned earlier, health applications must be interoperable with multiple third-party apps, and this has become an indistinguishable part of health tech in general. A comprehensive, integrated healthcare solution streamlines workflows, minimizes errors, maximizes the staff’s productivity, and improves patients’ experience and overall clinical outcomes.
It is always better to build a mental health management system that can incorporate applications for a wide range of non-medical administrative activities like coding, billing, claims submission, payment processing, patient engagement, and so forth.
Step 4: Doctor-Focused Back End for Reporting
Medical apps have two sides to them – one for the patients and the other for the doctors. The patients can book consultations, view their health data, and make payments. On the other hand, the doctors must manage the practice and their interactions with the patients.
For a mental health management solution, the back end of the application should be solely focused on the doctors. It must allow them to chart each patient’s treatment strategy progress and make notes based on every consultation.
Step 5: Coding the Design
After the application design has been finalized along with the features, it is time to be developing the code. The development team will decide upon the technology stack, and an appropriate deadline will be set.
Step 6: Testing
After coding the application, it is important to test it against established parameters. If the app works as desired, it can be launched. Otherwise, the bugs must be documented, and the development team must fix them for re-testing.
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of healthcare technology amongst the common people. This shift has revealed surprising advantages when it comes to mental health. Mental health management systems have increased access to mental care and helped thousands of people cope with their struggles. As mentioned earlier, such platforms have presented a solution to address the brewing mental health crisis in the United States. Whether or not more people will seek help, it is clear that mental health applications are fast becoming the norm.
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Written by Riken Shah
Riken's work motto is to help healthcare providers use technological advancements to make healthcare easily accessible to all stakeholders, from providers to patients. Under his leadership and guidance, OSP Labs has successfully developed over 600 customized software solutions for 200+ healthcare clients across continents.