Myth: digital-only is the answer

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Insights.
As the lines blur between our personal and professional lives, employees are increasingly turning to their employers for better mental health and wellbeing support. Looking for easy wins and low-effort solutions, many organisations are banking on self-help digital tools as the answer.
With between 165,000 and 325,000 health and wellness apps now commercially available, these apps are typically convenient, widely available, highly scalable, relatively easy to implement, and delegate much of the responsibility back to employees themselves.

What the evidence says

Self-help apps can provide valuable initial guidance, but they should complement, not substitute, professional health care and robust clinical governance. They should enhance a more holistic and comprehensive employee wellbeing strategy, not be the strategy.

Lack of ongoing engagement

Self-help apps risk user drop-off. This can result in delays to care or the absence of care (if there is no human support or ongoing follow-up).                

“Widely celebrated as the solution to the supply and demand imbalance in mental health care, digital mental health interventions have flooded the marketplace to supplement specialty mental health care. However, the evidence supporting their efficacy is mixed [see also here], and engagement with digital mental health interventions, particularly mobile apps that lack ancillary human interaction, is abysmal. Users are unlikely to use these interventions more than a few times,” conclude Rudd and Beidas.

Carlo, Ghomi, Renn and Areán concur; “the vast majority [of health apps] remain largely unevaluated… [and] even when apps are evidence-based, their public health impact is often curbed by poor adherence”.

“Furthermore, the movement of specialty mental health care, an intensive public health intervention, from the hands of clinicians and into standalone digital interventions ignores decades of research about the importance of social support and may further isolate individuals who need human connection the most. Given the robust social support literature, it is not surprising that digital interventions with the highest levels of engagement are those that include some form of human interaction,” said Rudd and Beidas.

Gaps in patient assessment

Digital app users often struggle to fit their circumstances into the predefined categories in an app. Limitations of the tools can also lead to a ‘Dr Google’ type of self-diagnosis. This represents a dangerous gap in patient assessment because it neglects that many wellbeing issues are complex and multilayered.

For example, “around 51 per cent of Sonder’s support cases are caused by something other than the issue stated. [To illustrate,] self-diagnosed financial stress might, upon professional triage, uncover a need for urgent safety support for domestic violence, plus mental health support for isolation, depression, and suicide ideation all underwritten by a complex medical problem,” says Dr Jamie Phillips, Medical Director and Head of Member Support at Sonder.

Want to learn more?

This post is an excerpt from our evidence-based report: 5 myths of employee wellbeing. To discover the other four myths in our report, please click here.

For more information about how Sonder can help you rethink your workplace support, we invite you to contact us here.


About Sonder

Sonder is a leading Australian wellbeing and safety company accredited by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS). Our solution is a technology-driven platform supported by 24/7 safety, medical, and mental health experts. This is backed up by a physical responder network that can be onsite quickly for complex scenarios, plus a capability to deliver unique and timely data insights which drive meaningful business decisions.

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