In Pursuit of Telemental Health

In Pursuit of Telemental Health

Feeling depressed? There’s an app for that.  Companies are turning to technology to help their employees seek the help they need quickly and easily. The ability to access mental health services through a smartphone creates pathways to health which have not previously existed. The smartphone has become an integral partner in the fight against mental illness in the workplace. The cost of untreated mental illness can be reduced while creating easy access through the use of a smartphone to therapeutic services has become an alternative to Employee Assistance Programs, EAPs. Can an app on a smartphone protect a person’s right to privacy and informed consent? I believe not can it but it also addresses a public health issue: access to mental health.

Currently, there are five different services which an employer can choose from to provide telemental health. Two of the services track the user’s activity on their phone to determine if there is a need for mental health services and the other three work with questionnaires provided by the person and/or a request for video, text or audio chat. All of the services provide information on how the service works, what it will and won’t be providing and tracking and ensures the user’s privacy.  Any mental health service which is sought is not reported to the employer helping to create a feeling of safety in using the app. Some employers hold brief seminars on how the app works and allow the employees to decide whether or not they wish to access the service. This gives the employee a feeling of anonymity in their decision to access mental health services if they feel it becomes necessary.

Once the employee is introduced to the service and researches its website they can make a fully informed decision whether or not they want to download the app onto their smartphone. By downloading the app the employee assumes the risk which is inherent with any app. Anytime we download an app it is understood our activity is being tracked when we play a game or search on the internet. In the case of the mental health apps they tell the employee how the app works and what it will be tracking leaving the employee informed as to the use of their information. If there are any questions regarding how the app mines or tracks their activity, customer support is available on the website. By providing support systems to help explain the service the mental health app companies are helping to ensure the customer is making a fully informed decision based upon all the information available to them.

A person has the right to choose whether or not they want to download an app which may help them. Downloading and using a mental health app enforces a negative right or liberty.  Access to the app enforces a person's freedom to pursue their own interest according to their own free will without interference from outside interests. It is then a choice which should be made privately without fear of reprise from their employer. Employees should have the right to choose how they access help. While it is still imperfect a mental health app addresses the issue of mental health by providing care at the touch of a finger.

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